30 April 2012

Review: A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES, Ruth Rendell

  • this edition published by Chivers Press in large print 2000
  • originally published 1998
  • ISBN 0-7450-2250-1
  • 436 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Random House Australia)

In traditional fairy tales the handsome prince rescues the beautiful princess from her wicked stepmother, and the couple live happily ever after.But in Ruth Rendell's dark and damaged contemporary universe, innocent dreams can turn into the most terrible nightmares.Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome but autistic young man. Francine Hill, traumatised by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother.Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders.

My take

Although the sequel to this novel THE VAULT is a 2011 addition to the Wexford series, A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES was written as a stand alone, and could so easily have been published as a Barbara Vine title.

I'm sure I have read it before, but had really forgotten most of it, although I knew a large part of the final plot because of reading THE VAULT earlier this year.

It feels quite a long novel as Rendell details the loveless childhood of Teddy Brex and the trauma that surrounds that of Francine Hill. That these two plot strands will converge is not a surprise to the reader but the manner of their coming together may be.

If you haven't yet read THE VAULT I suggest you try to track down a copy of  SIGHT FOR SORE EYES first even if only because THE VAULT contains plot spoilers, and you will get a much better appreciation of what Ruth Rendell has achieved in writing the sequel by reading them "in order". In essence the ending of A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES left room for the sequel but probably none of her followers realised that. I don't know if there is another author who has done anything similar - written a stand-alone story and then followed it up with a sequel written as part of an ongoing, long standing, series.

On its own A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES is a satisfying if somewhat macabre story about damage to children. At the end Rendell serves out a sort of justice.

My rating: 4.5  

I have also made this post my contribution this week to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books

Followers of Rendell will be interested to know that she is publishing another stand-alone later this year. (let me just remind you that she is 82)

Blurb from Fantastic Fiction.
From three-time Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street - and the deadly ways their lives intertwine.

Life in the well-manicured London locale of Hexam Place is not as placid and orderly as it appears. Behind the tranquil gardens and polished entryways, relationships between servants and their employers are set to combust.

Henry, the handsome valet to Lord Studley, is sleeping with both the Lord's wife and his university-age daughter. Montserrate, the Still family's lazy au pair, is helping to hide Mrs. Still's illicit affair with a television actor - for a small fee. June, the haughty housekeeper to a princess of dubious origin, is hard at work forming a 'society' for servants to address complaints about their employers. Meanwhile, a disturbed gardener, Dex, believes a voice in his cellphone is giving him godlike instructions - that could endanger the lives of all who reside in Hexam Place.

A deeply observed and suspenseful update to the upstairs/downstairs genre, The St. Zita Society is Ruth Rendell at her incisive best.

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