"Your wickedness affects a man such as you, And your righteousness a son of man." -- Job 35:8 (NKJV)
Portobello is an eloquently written novel built around wanting to demonstrate how much we affect one another's lives through simple decisions and small contacts. While we tend to see ourselves as firmly in control of our lives and our fate, it isn't necessarily so. Part of Ms. Rendell's subtext is to suggest that those who are better off materially may, in fact, be more pitiful than their poorer counterparts who make the best of whatever hand has been dealt them.
Because of the heavy slant towards portraying how "neighbors" affect one another, the details of the story seem almost beside the point at times. That approach doesn't make for the most compelling story, but rather gives the reader room to re-examine his or her own life.
I must admit that I found the physical descriptions in the book to be stunningly well written. The character development seemed shallow and not-quite credible in comparison. As a result, the story didn't quite convince me to suspend my disbelief.
If you enjoy stories that make you identify with one or more of the characters, you probably won't like this book as much as I did.
If you are a Ruth Rendell fan, you may be a bit disappointed in comparison with her earlier works.