When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair - until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace’s doctoral thesis soon puncture the house’s idyllic atmosphere.
When he and Andrew witness their friend’s murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house.
Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript - a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child’s Child - never published because of its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories.
The Child’s Child is an enormously clever, brilliantly constructed novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, in her newest work under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society’s treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed - and how sometimes it hasn’t.
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Not Entwined by This Vine
Grace and James' argument, "Who historically has had it worse: Gay men or unwed mothers?" was the book's theme in an inelegant nutshell. You know who really had it worse? We did, for having to spend ten hours of our lives with these characters!The pregnant female protagonists of both storylines are unsympathetic and uninteresting, both in their personae and their actions. Andrew and James (the homosexual couple in the present-day story) aren't engaging or endearing, either. The murder they witness seems as contrived as its impact on them. In fact, this murder figures hardly at all, until a brief, unconvincing flurry of melodrama at the end.
Frankly, I would have been just fine with a tale solely about John and Bertie, completely eliminating the present day storyline, and the loathsome women in this novel. These characters were the most developed, and it seemed that Ms. Vine liked writing about them more, as well.
There was something about the way Ms.Coomes says the word "baby" that set my teeth on edge. Seeing as this is (rather more than less) a novel about pregnancy, I may need (rather sooner than later) to make a dentist appointment. She was also a bit too actor-y for my taste, but I became rather inured to that affectation after the first couple of hours.
I was appalled by the female characters. They both were by turns self-involved, foolish, and vapid. I never really cared about them or their respective plights. The present-day gay couple, Andrew and James, was never developed enough to care much about. I kept waiting for the emotional bang which I've come to associate with Barbara Vine novels, but all I got was a whimper. Neither tale was satisfactorily drawn to conclusion. Instead, both storylines just sort of petered out. (An authorial attempt was made to slap a bow on the contemporary tale's denouement, but it did not make a presentable package.)
I'm pretty stingy with my credits, and I try to choose wisely, but this time I let my love of Vine/Rendell novels skew my judgement. I ignored the other two two-star reviews and clicked away! In retrospect, I do think I could have spent my credit better elsewhere. I did not think that it would ever be possible for me to say that about a Barbara Vine novel, but, alas, there it is.
- Ingie P.