Friday, December 21, 2012

A Sight for Sore Eyes: Ruth Rendell

British crime-writer Ruth Rendell is a well-known mystery author who has won many awards for her writing.  She was born in 1930; thus she is 82 years old. And she published two novels in 2012.

This book is one of Ruth Rendell's stand alone psychological thrillers. Rendell has written 23 novels in the Inspector Wexford series. She has written roughly 40 non-series mysteries, some written under the name Barbara Vine.

In A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998), we have the story of Teddy Brex, a misfit in society, and it isn't clear whether his personality is a result of nature or nurture. His parents ignored him as a child, but they also have deviant characteristics. Due to natural artistic talent, he has some success but doesn't know how to have relationships. We also follow the story of a young girl who has been damaged by the murder of her mother and a subsequent over-nurturing, over-protective stepmother. The two stories come together in a chilling way.

The British Council Literature site has many insights into the writings of Ruth Rendell. Here are some comments on the stand alone thrillers.
The exploration of the darker impulses engendered by society’s established codes is even more evident in Rendell’s mystery thrillers which do not feature Wexford. Without the institutional presence of the detective, Rendell herself becomes the investigator and she unveils the connections between crime and social and economic disadvantage.
Her books, hard to categorize as 'popular' or 'genre fiction', are set in a fundamentally amoral world (which is how Rendell describes our contemporary society) and her endings take an unexpectedly more open turn than we would expect from mystery stories: the crime may be solved, but no salvation or redemption occurs and the tensions which generated it in the first place are left unanswered.
Ruth Rendell's writing is always worth reading; the story is told well; the characters are all interesting, even the minor characters. In this novel, the author seems not to take a position or judge, but just tell the story as it develops and see what happens. One character isn't bad and another good; just characters living out their lives. In these cases, very unusual lives.

I have read less of the non-Wexford novels, so would not consider myself an expert on those. The Wexford novels seem to me to be slower, less intense. A Sight for Sore Eyes moved at a faster pace for me, but because the subject matter was off-putting, I had a harder time getting through it. Inspector Wexford novels are comfort reading; the stand alone novels are much harder to digest.

So, the overall verdict is: a great read, I do recommend it for those who like this kind of story. Reading this book, very much outside of my comfort zone, was an experiment and it helped me to appreciate Rendell's writing even more than I had previously.  But I am not in a hurry to read another of her psychological thrillers.

I recently reviewed The Monster in the Box, the 22nd book in the Inspector Wexford series. I am currently reading the 23rd book in the series, The Vault, which is a sequel (of a sort) to A Sight for Sore Eyes.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ruth Rendell wrote two books in 2012, at the age of 82! If that isn't inspirational, I don't know what it is. Thanks for the link to the British Council Lit Site, Tracy, I am going to have a look.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - There really is a difference isn't there between Rendell's Wexford series and her standalones. I enjoy both but I can see exactly why you'd find this one off-putting. The more I read of Rendell the more appreciate her flexibility as a writer.

Sarah said...

I do prefer Rendell's Wexford novels but she is always a good read whichever. I think I read this book years ago - I must look it out again. Hope you havea relaxing Christmas Tracy.