This month’s Caffeine and Chapters Book Club read is an Edgar Award Winning Novel. Having never read any books from the list of winners I realised this was a genre I probably hadn’t tapped into. I liked the sound of this title over all the others on the list and so I downloaded it as an audio book.
I didn’t realise that Barbara Vine was the nom de plume of Ruth Rendell’s. I had recently read The Killing Doll by Rendell and thoroughly enjoyed her characterisations and the dark nature of the novel, so once I realised who had written this book I was quietly pleased about my choice.
What a great story it is. It is the tale of a family with dark secrets and the secrets are slowly unraveled by Faith, the niece of the main character Vera, after she is approached by a true crime writer who wants to write about Vera’s life. The title of the novel relates to the opening of Faith’s eyes to events in her family and seeing them with an adult’s new perspective.
The novel opens with Vera’s execution and Faith mentions just about all the main characters without us knowing who they are and how they will relate to the story. As the novel progresses some of these characters and their relationships are a revelation.
In short Faith’s father has two sisters – Vera and Eden. He places these two women on a pedestal as paragon’s of virtue and Faith finds it very hard to live up to their standards only to find that they were not very virtuous at all as she pieces together their past. Vera is much older than Eden and pushes her son away in favour of raising Eden when their parents die. Faith often stays with them on holidays only to find them whispering and keeping secrets and making her feel very uncomfortable a lot of the time. Vera’s son is very scornful and cruel to her but Eden appears to counter his presence with beauty and a strong love for her sister Vera.
Things take a turn when Faith’s family are told that Vera is expecting. She is a much older lady and with her husband away (this is set during the 2nd World War) they can do the math. They don’t receive much communication whilst she is pregnant but are relieved when they are told eventually by Eden that she has delivered a healthy baby boy – Jamie.
Vera is completely devoted to Jamie, but when she falls very ill she is devastated by the fact that Eden has taken him to live with her and her new very wealthy husband. Eden has been trying for a child of her own, but a miscarriage and subsequent problems mean that she can no longer have a baby. What ensues is a very bitter custody battle to try and bring Jamie back home to Vera, which culminates in murder and Vera’s execution.
What I loved about this novel were the insights by Faith describing the time she spent with the two women. What seems innocuous at first becomes darker when viewed in light of the later events. The characterisations are absolutely brilliant and their history quite complex. What we have here is a mystery story, but we are still left with a mystery at the end of it – well two actually. Who was Jamie’s father and who is actually Jamie’s mother?
This is a fantastic read and Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell will be on my reading list for the rest of this year. With Rendell’s passing a few days ago I can see there are a lot of novels I need to catch up on.