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on 18 February 2013
I bought this book as a gift for my sister because it is one of my favourite books. I have re read it several times and it is just so atmospheric and the characters so good, it really is enjoyable. The relationships between the sisters, the setting, the rivalries for the affections of the artist - and the vicar are what makes it for me. It is utterly compelling.
This is not a crime thriller or a particularly dramatic novel but it is a great read. My sister said she enjoyed it - just hope she didn't think I was sending her some kind of cryptic message about our own relationship....
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on 11 July 2017
Well, it is brilliant, obviously, like any other book by Barbara Vine. Couldn't put it down. The only fault I could find with it, if I try really hard to think of faults, is that the protagonist is unusually mature, observant, and self-reliant for her (very young) age.
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on 7 January 2017
This book like so many of Barbara Vine's other one is a page turning, a book full of mystery and questions. I love how she is able to bring a book to life and make you think about everything.
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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2006
As soon as I heard about the plot outline for this I knew that this would be Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell on tip-top form. We're back in the 1960s, and Kerstin Kvist, a young Swedish girl, arrives at a remote country house in the wilds of Essex, to act as nurse/companion to John Cosway, a man in his late thirties, who Kerstin is led to believe is suffering from schizophrenia. Kerstin soon realises that her duties aren't exactly arduous. She has to accompany John on his afternoon walk, and oversee his medication at bedtime. It is with this medication that Kerstin soon realises that something is very wrong at the Hall. Kerstin is up against John's mother, a truly monstrous and thoroughly detestable old lady, who rules the household with a rod of iron. There is absolutely nothing likeable about Mrs Cosway, but she is not a pantomime villain, she's all too believable. Also in the household are John's three spinster sisters, Ella, Winifred (both of whom are obsessed with the same man, an arrogant artist called Felix), and downtrodden Ida, who acts as a maid-of-all-work for everyone. As the book unfolds the lack of any human feeling or normal emotions exhibited by the Cosways becomes truly disturbing. Eventually Kerstin feels she is becoming as cowed and downtrodden as Ida.
Both Kerstin and the author's great compassion for John is what lifts this book above what could have been just any other Aga saga thriller, or a spoof of the Victorian Gothics, at which the author pokes some gentle fun at times. Kerstin's growing affection for John, and the way he tries to reach out to her in the limited way he knows how, are heart-rending. The final pay-off is done simply and low-key, but it will horrify you.
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VINE VOICEon 26 December 2006
Magnificent. This is a family with severe and serious relationship problems which seem to me to be caused solely by the mother's dark and obsessive possessiveness, coupled with her very dark and unguessable secret. Vine's imaginative powers have no end to their depth - she's supreme. This book has sex - one character sleeping with 2 sisters at the same time, a vicar,a very dodgy doctor, a family feud simmering mostly in silence but which occasionally raises itself above the parapet to be quoshed rapidly;intigue in spades;collusion in spades; a creepy library. This is juxtaposed with an idyllic country setting.

Vine is amazing. Long may she write such chilling novels which stop us in our tracks and prevent us from doing anything except turning the pages. I can only think in superlatives about this book.
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on 30 April 2009
I'm afraid I agree with the reviewer who said they'd felt they'd wasted time reading this book. I felt the same way. I had been looking forward to a mystery, but everything seems to be spelt out and explained to the reader...there's nothing to discover for oneself here! I could not relate to any of the characters at all and quite frankly couldn't have cared if they had all perished in the end!
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on 1 October 2012
Having just read Fatal Inversion, in my opinion one of her very best novels as Barbara Vine, I was disappointed with this one. I always admire her ability to create unsympathetic characters who nevertheless compel us to read on and find out what happens to them, but in this case it is a very long time before anything very much happens. The first person narrator is a young Swedish girl, rather ignorant of the ways of English society, and her record of the characters and doings of the strange and unpleasant occupants of the decrepit country mansion in which she finds herself is repetitive and over-long. I don't think we can blame the character entirely for this; I have noticed a tendency to over-emphasize in other Rendall books where she is not on top form. Having said that, I think most readers will continue reading to the end to find out what happens, even if there is very little mystery involved.
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VINE VOICEon 13 March 2006
As with the previous reveiwer, I cannot praise Barbara Vine's latest work enough. As is often the case with Vine's books, this ia a true slow-burner, and the real action does not occur until the latter parts of the book, but the build up and characters are so compelling you are gripped from the outset, feeling, perhaps like Kerstin that you are an outsider given a privileged but disturbing vantage point to observe the family in the Hall. The Cosways are a superb creation, sinister, grotesque, comedic and pitiable by turns, certainly a dysfunctional family to rival the dynamics of the Hilliard/Longley family in A Dark adapted Eye (One of my favourites from her earlier works). The clues and pointers are placed strategically from the start, from the characters reaquainted with Kerstin at the start and those they mention, to the Roman vase, the library and Lydstep Old Hall itself, leading you compulsively onwards to the shattering conclusions. I was slightly concerned at one point that developments toward the end would result in a cheap pastiche of events in Jane Eyre and Rebecca, but Vine creates her own set of circumstances, and by references to both, she deftly avoids this.
I have thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly reccommend The Minotaur
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on 11 April 2007
Who needs vampires & gore when you've got Vine to give you the chills? Loved Kerstin, she seemed so human that it was comforting. The sisters and the mother are just plain disturbing from their lack of compassion (except Zorah) for their brother/son. It felt so horrific to read that John had never felt the security of touch because of his fear brought about I suspected by his mother. This novel moved me in a way I never imagined because I think Vine's aim for this book was different from what I expected. I think she simply wanted to tell a story of a mentally handicapped man living in a world even more in desperate need than he is, and she wanted us to judge for ourselves. She maybe wanted us to answer 'What would we do in Kerstin's place?'
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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2006
Having just re-read this book in paperback after devouring it in hardback when it was first published, I'm confident that it's another Vine classic. Once again we have the classic outsider-meets-strange-insular-family and the author's characterisation remains first class. The story, although slow to begin with, builds up rather nicely with a few shocks towards the end. Throughout the novel the narrator (the family's Swedish nurse, Kerstin) is able to tell the story from her perspective, which is juxtoposed with the strange occurances and behaviours exibited.

This book is fairly similar in structure to 'A Dark Adapted Eye', but is a good read and I'd recommend to all fans of Vine's work.
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