Ruth Rendell, “The Water’s Lovely”

Finishing this book I felt the words of a pop song eluding me: something along the lines of  “Is it you, is it me, I don’t feel it the way I used to…” (Am I wrong to be thinking Gordon Lightfoot here?)

I’ve always found Rendell’s books to be reliable escapes, though sometimes into a world far more disturbing than the one I thought I was evading. This time, though, I found myself faintly bored. And mind you, the novel starts with a murder. It should be difficult to squander the kind of curiosity provoked by an opening scene in which a fifteen-year-old girl has apparently just drowned a man in the bath.  Yet somehow Rendell lost me.

I think it was largely a matter of pacing: she’s a good at plotting and I was always able to admire the way she wove the complex connections among her cast of characters. (She relies on coincidence yet manages to make it plausible: after all, life in a metropolis like London does often turn on strage chances.)

She is also excellent at portraying the characters you love to hate, with a special gift for sick mother/son domination.  In The Water’s Lovely she focuses on Marion Melville, a cunning schemer whose talent at self-deception gives the reader the upper hand. There’s blackmail, child rape, date rape, an attempted poisoning, a strangling — and still it plodded. Too much time spent in the head of the not-very-interesting protagonist, I think.

Is this an anomaly? I hope so, because if Ruth Rendell’s books are going to stop entertaining me, I’m going to need a new strategy for diversion.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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2 Responses to Ruth Rendell, “The Water’s Lovely”

  1. Lee says:

    As usual, your posts trigger musings and, for once, I am going to actually share one of them. It is interesting how even worlds rife with murder can (obviously don’t always…!) provide a satisfying escape. I think it is because the fictional worlds have an order that we don’t detect in our own reality — the loose ends may drip blood but they will be tied because someone is in charge. The astonishing part is that authors can do all this tying up without making their fictional world seem contrived. Because ‘contrived’ does not provide satisfying escape. ‘Contrived’ just reminds us that we were trying to escape.

  2. carolwallace says:

    Of course you are exactly right: the received wisdom on this genre is that it flourished first in the Depression in part because it demonstrated the restoration of order. What I find interesting is that some of the new writers are playing with the genre in ways that reflect fundamental unease in our world. I recently read a series in which the detective got killed — in volume 2, the mystery did not get solved — in vol 3, it got solved, but tragically. And somehow, this occluded restoration of order feels appropriate. –C.

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