I’ve loved Barbara Vine for like ever. I know she doesn’t exist and is in fact Ruth Rendell, but still. It’s an irony that I have not now nor have I ever had any desire to read a Rendell novel. Vine first showed up on my radar when A Fatal Inversion was televised for the BBC way back in time before the hula hoop. Okay, it was like 1992 or something but still, I’m old, alright? Anyway, I read the book of that, then burned my way through everything she’d published, and she went on to my list of Authors Who I Will Read Everything They Ever Publish. Which brings us to her latest novel, The Child’s Child.
Grace and Andrew Eaton inherit their grandmother’s vast Hampstead house when she dies. They move in and divide the house down the middle, taking half each as their own flat, with a little bit of shared living space. The wheels start to come off when Andrew’s boyfriend moves in and upsets the sibling harmony they have established. James Derain is a novelist, highly sensitive and initially clashes with Grace over her thesis. She is looking at the treatment of illegitimacy in literature and comparing it to the treatment of homosexuality. He takes it a little too personally, but then a personal tragedy comes along and everything spins completely out of control with potentially fatal consequences.
Not every Vine novel is a home run, but they are always a good read, you know? Well, this latest is a crushing disappointment from start to finish. Only one third of the novel is actually about the Eatons. The other two thirds are an unpublished novel Grace finds while researching her thesis. Dealing in a thinly veiled fictional account of the author’s family, it covers gays and illegitimate children, but it’s not interesting and the lead character of Maud is increasingly less likeable and infinitely more crazy with each page turn. And it’s TWO THIRDS of the book. As for the Eaton’s third, well, I didn’t believe one single word of it. Not one. The characters are ridiculous, especially James Derain. The arc that drives the Eaton’s apart is dumb, the arc that pulls them back together again is so patently unrealistic, I was actually shouting at the book when it was all kicking off. An unexpected and total failure from Vine. And what’s really sad is this could well be her last novel, as Rendell is pushing 90 years old.