This is one of Ruth Rendell’s stand-alone novels, one of those where she chooses a subject to be pitied and then reveals exactly how flawed the human race is.
It cheers people knowing others are unhappy, don’t you think?
Gray Lanceton had started his literary career with promise, well enough that he’d had more money to spend than he thought but for the last three years he hasn’t written a word. Living in a hovel on the edge of a forest his only contact the milkman and his once a week foray to the bank to withdraw four pounds to live off and to the library to choose a selection of books. What went so wrong? What happened to the young man who appeared to have life at his fingertips? Gray had met Drusilla, a young bored and beautiful wife to a wealthy older man but before the story starts the affair had finished; Drusilla had made one demand too far.
It was a pity, he thought, that uncomplicated joy lasts so short a time, that it must always give way rapidly to practicalities and plans.
The beauty of Ruth Rendell’s books is how she draws damaged characters so very well and in so few words, this book is less than 200 pages but deeply satisfying from the first to last page. We get an impression of Grey through his own despairing eyes but later get an impression of what he was from his friends and most revealing of all, from his step-father.
Inside each one of us is a frightened child trying to get out. The measure of our maturity is the extent to which we are able to keep that child quiet, confined and concealed.
The Face of Trespass was written in 1974 and as always with these older books I loved the detail of the period, where you went into a bank to withdraw money, one where four pounds could last someone a week? That barely buys me two cups of coffee! The sense of place, this book is set in Essex, where Rendell lived and worked, along with the convoluted travel arrangements Grey had needed to visit Drusilla in the days when they met while her husband, Tiny, worked and entertained and it was partly to this end that he had moved to the hovel before everything ended and he is left with the telephone that sits squat reminding him of happier days and yet tempts him with the ease of contact.
all the joy she’d brought him seemed to shine. If he could have her without demands, without complications! It was impossible – yet to hear her voice just once?
This was an enjoyable tale in a voyeuristic sort of way, I felt like I was watching a play, the scene set in the hovel before the action, including some farcical moments, got underway and then building up to a neat denouement.
I was saddened to hear Ruth Rendell had died on 2 May 2015 after a career as an author spanning from 1964 to the present with her latest book, Dark Corners, due to be published later this year. She will be sorely missed.