6 March 2009

Review, PORTOBELLO, Ruth Rendell

Hutchinson 2008, ISBN 978-0-09-192585-7, 278 pages

Anybody who has visited London is familiar with the Portobello Road and its markets. Some of the families, rich and poor, who live in the streets off Portobello Road have lived in the district for generations. Eugene Wren's very successful art gallery of fine arts in upmarket Kensington Church Street for example, is the successor to the one his father had in a glossy arcade quite a long way up the road. Gene, seemingly a confirmed bachelor now in his 50s lives in the more fashionable Chepstow Villas.

In contrast is the Gibson family, once market stall holders, now most of the family either lives on the dole or on the products of breaking and entering. Lance, unemployed, lives with his step-uncle Gib,an elder of the Church of the Children of Zebulun. His girlfriend has thrown him out, and his parents won't let him in. Lance needs instant money to repair his girlfriend's teeth after he knocks her front tooth out, and burglary provides afeasible option.

When Joel Roseman has a heart attack in the street he becomes a patient of Eugene's lady friend Ella, who is a GP in a nearby practice. Ella soon realises that Joel's problems are as much psychological as they are physical, and outside her capabilities. And in an illustration that the problems right on our own doorstep often go unrecognised by our nearest and dearest, Eugene has an addiction he doesn't dare tell Ella about.

Ruth Rendell has taken the lives of three principal characters and the circles within which they move, and played with the concept of degrees of separation, forging connections between them that we would never have expected.

In a sense, although several crimes take place in the novel, this isn't really a crime fiction novel. For me, it is more like those novels that Rendell has written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym. I've felt that with the last couple of Rendell stand alones, most recently in in THE WATER'S LOVELY. It is almost as if she has changed her mind about what goes under what name. As others have commented, this isn't Rendell at her best. She struggles with a couple of plots to make them interesting, and I found the one involving Eugene Wren particularly tedious. However she still writes well, but the crime fiction strands are really not tensioned enough.

My rating: 4.2

For a full list of Rendell novels see Fantastic Fiction


Paul Brazill said...

Sounds of intrest to me.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for dropping in Paul


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