Barbara Vine has written some of my favourite books, those that I have returned to over the years to re-read just for sheer enjoyment despite already knowing what happens. Now I rarely re-read books and you’d think ones billed as crime would be the last thing to read, after all you already know what happens. When she writes as Vine (she was first published as Ruth Rendell) her stories often focus on family secrets and misunderstandings or hidden crimes with the story tracking the resulting consequences. These are books that are character driven, they are not thrillers with fast action but books often spanning years where the characters involved deal with the ripple spreading effect of their actions.
In The Child’s Child we meet siblings, Grace and Andrew who have inherited their grandmother Verity’s large London house. Deciding they want to keep it they decide to live there together, but, as the blurb reveals, they hadn’t considered what would happen when one of them moves their partner in, particularly if they didn’t get on. Tensions are soon revealed and the reader is party to the amount of introspection that Grace struggles with when she should be writing her dissertation.
Grace is exploring the lives of unmarried mothers in literature when she picks up what for me is the best part of this story, a book written but not published, which follows the life of Maud, an unmarried mother. Digging deep into family life starting in 1929 this is a great examination of how disgrace was dealt with at that time. Vine has a knack of making everything believable, I knew Maud, I may not have liked her but I could see how her character, her views and her circumstances lead her to become the woman she was at the end of her story. Although a little jumpy, you do suddenly realise the story-line has moved on a few years, this part of the book gave me a fascinating look into the mores of the times; this was the part of the book that resonated, Grace and Andrew’s story appearing a little forced for my tastes but providing a mirror of siblings living eighty years apart.
After waiting years for another Vine book, I opened the page and felt soothed by the instantly recognisable style, these books are great for nosey people, those who want to know what goes on behind closed doors and Vine writes in a way that allows the reader to do this. There is often character introspection, plotting and picking over events so that you really understand their thought processes, their hopes and their fears.
I enjoyed this book but it wouldn’t be the one that I would recommend as a first read so here are my top five Barbara Vine books
A Fatal Inversion – In 1976 a group of friends camp in Wyvis Hall, 10 years later the body of a woman and child are found buried in the pet cemetery, how are the two events connected and whose are the bodies. Some fantastic hidden clues in this one!
Asta’s Book – In 1905 Asta and her husband move to England with their two sons from Denmark. Seventy years later the diaries she wrote are translated and published and reveal much more than was expected.
A Dark Adapted Eye – Vera Hillyard and her beautiful sister Eden are locked together trying to hide a secret from the 1950’s.
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy – Switching between the 1950’s and 1990’s when a noted author dies his total reinvention at the age of 20 is discovered
The Brimstone Wedding – Jenny works in a care home and becomes attached to the elderly Stella who reveals her early life which has parallels to Jenny’s current dilemma.