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I've read the vast majority of Ruth Rendell's novels over the years, and always find them hugely readable. She has an ability to ratchet up suspense and dread like few other writers, while being able to do so from the perspective of detective, witness or culprit equally skilfully.
However, the quality of the writing and characterisation can vary dramatically. There are novels that are subtle and original (the brilliant Live Flesh), and there are others that feature clunky prose and unbelievable characters. Unfortunately, The Water's Lovely is in the latter category, and possibly its worst example.
As with most of the non-Wexford books, this story is set in London. The setting is vivid, and it's obvious here too that Rendell knows and is passionate about London. The novels that don't feature Inspector Wexford often feel like randomly stepping into the lives of Londoners ordinary and eccentric.
The Londoners in question are less impressive. The main characters are simply rather insipid. This is disappointing for a Rendell book, which normally draw on very characters with very particular traits and personalities. Ismay and Heather are the sisters around whom the mystery revolves. One comes across as dull and timid, the other silent, odd but worthy. Neither feels credible as a character. Their mentally unstable mother is similarly two-dimensional. Although these characters have been through events that should inspire sympathy in a reader, they are so flat it's hard to feel any interest in them, let alone feeling.
If the principal characters are boring, then some of the others are plain bizarre. There's Marion, who literally runs from place to place. I've tried to visualise this, and I just can't. It's too out there. There's the elderly Muslim man she tries to woo for gain, who is so solidly anti the Muslim stereotype that he feels less a character and more a right-on statement.
The language used is very simplistic compared to other novels by the same writer. It's almost impossible to believe the dialogue in particular was written by the person. It's irritatingly littered with references to the current time, which sadly age the book very quickly. It feels like an older writer trying too hard to be with it, and that's distracting. Just sticking to the story would have been a better tactic.
Aside from the characters and prose, the plot is essentially fine. The twists are there plus the nasty way plans and events seem to unfold to make the character's situation (Ismay's here) increasingly tense and unbearable. The latter is a real Rendell strength.
The ending is a disappointment, however. Again, too outlandish to have any real significance. It doesn't gel with the tone of the rest of the book. This is a relatively small part, though, so doesn't affect enjoyment too much.
Overall, the plot is still enough for me to give it three stars - I didn't regret picking it up and sped through to the end, so that qualifies as a good read. The rest was not up to scratch though, and this book lacks the psychological depth in particular that normally make Ruth Rendell vastly superior to the averge crime writer.
Admittedly I haven't really been in much of a reading mood this year (aside from review reading) which is most unlike me, instead choosing to stare out of the train window at sheep. However, when Ruth Rendell's book "The Water's Lovely" came up as available on BookMooch (a site where you give away books you don't want and get books you do want) I was eager to read it. Unfortunately I was in for a bit of a disappointment, and that is what prompted me to write this review.
---Ruth and I---
I first got into reading Ruth Rendell books when on holiday with my parents back in 2000. Having finished the books I had taken with me I got through my mum's two Ruth Rendell books as well ('Harm Done', and A 'Sight for Sore Eyes') and thoroughly enjoyed them (albeit scary that it was the first sign I might be turning into my mother). Since then I have read at least 20 of her books, so she is an author I really like, even though some of her older stuff can come across as being a bit dated now. To be honest at 28 I'm probably one of her younger readers, I don't know!
Ruth Rendell was born in London in 1930, looking at the photo of her inside my book you would have no idea that she's now 79 (unfortunately you can tell from her writing style in this book - but more on that in a bit).
A prolific writer, Ruth Rendell's Bibliography can be found on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Rendell if anyone's interested. But in short from 1964 onwards she has written a lot of books - stand-alone novels, 22 in the Inpsector Wexford detective series (you've got to love Wexford!), a number written under the name of Barbara Vine (none of which I've read), and short story collections. She has won numerous awards and is a Baroness.
In general I have found her books easy to read, and fairly engaging.....
---The Water's Lovely - my copy---
My copy of the book is clearly an airport edition as it's bigger than normal paperbacks. The book, and my edition of it were published in 2006.
My copy has 295 pages. I don't know how much it cost as there's no price on the back, but thankfully it cost me nothing. A paperback can currently be picked up on Amazon for £5.49 which is FAR too much for this book.
---Come on in---
It's quite a strange set up really. Nine years since their stepfather Guy's death (he drowned in the bath) sisters Ismay (what an annoying name) and Heather live in the same house where he died. Upstairs in the house (a self-contained flat) their schizophrenic mother (she became schizophrenic when Guy died - have to say, I'm not convinced that this would be likely) lives upstairs with her sister Pamela. Bizarrely (and this is an illustration of just how weird the story is) Ismay's boyfriend of 2 years has never been upstairs in the house and met the mother.
Communication within the family is clearly not good. At the time of Guy's death Heather had been alone in the house with him until her mother and Ismay came back from shopping to find her soaked from head to toe. Guy was recovering from an illness at the time of his death and weakened by it so it wouldn't take much to drown him. Heather didn't like Guy anyway. Ismay and her mother told the police that Heather had been shopping with them at the time. Nothing more was said about it.
Ismay spends a lot of time thinking about the 'accident', and thinking about Guy. Although only 15 at the time, she had a bit of a thing going on with him. She believes that what happened is that Heather killed him to protect her. Nine years on she has a posh boyfriend Andrew Campbell-Sedge who is similar to Guy in looks, and is quite frankly a prick. Andrew really has a problem with Heather, it's all a bit strange really. Then when Heather falls in love with Edmund (a nurse who works at the hospital she does the catering at) things go from bad to worse between Ismay and Andrew - is he seeing someone else?
Meanwhile, Edmund's mother Irene has all sorts of ailments (a flippant comment by Ruth Rendell about ME didn't impress one reviewer on Amazon, and I can see why). Then there is Marion with her homeless brother Fowler. Marion is 42, going on 90 (in the things she comes out with), and she basically tries to get money out of anyone she can, in any way she can. Then there's Irene's neighbour Barry, and there's Pamela's new boyfriend, and Pamela's old boyfriend. How will all of these people end up linked together? And is one of them responsible for the murder which takes place?
---Is the water lovely???---
Er, in a word "No". Although a relatively short book it took me about a week to read it. There were times I wondered if I could even bother to pick it up.
The main problem really was the characters. Absolutely none of them were in the slightest bit realistic. And they were all so annoyingly stupid. I have no idea what planet Ruth Rendell was living on when she wrote this book.
Then there's the language, and the 'old-fashionedness'. The joke of it is (and I think anyone who reads the book with understand) that she makes out that the characters are old fashioned by using an example which highlights the fact that it's actually the writer who hasn't got a grip on modern life. It's hard to explain, so you'll have to take my word for it. There were times I thought that in a way this was deliberate, but it's just too stupid to be deliberate. Bear in mind that the main character Ismay is 24, the year is 2006. It was just incomprehensible to me that she could be anything less than 60. And it wasn't just her, it was all of them - it was the attitudes and beliefs of them all.
Some of the terms used in the book - 'a baby's soiled napkin' springs to mind - are just irritating and plain weird. What? Then there's reference to some dessert 'tartofu' which is apprently the in-thing (I had to Google it). Then there's references to modern culture (I can't recall in detail, but there was one about Britney & Kate Moss) which just don't make sense to anyone who is actually living in the modern world!
---A bit confused---
The thing is I have never felt this way about a Ruth Rendell book before. Yes, I have comes across a few examples of things which I haven't been quite sure about (particularly where mental health issues are concerned I think Ruth Rendell could Google them and get at least a clue about things before writing about them), and things which show she is slightly out of touch with the times, but never so many in one book. It would have made far more sense to me if the book had been written in 1976.
I did get through the book, and perhaps it wasn't all bad all of the time (hence the 2 stars rather than one). The character Heather was mildly less annoying than the rest. I can't say that the end of the book came as much of a surprise (well, the very end was slightly bizarre actually - I think an attempt to link it to the modern world) to me even though I wasn't making an effort to guess what would happen. For a psychological thriller, or suspense novel, there really wasn't much suspense at all, and I was bored for the most part of the book.
Unless you're a massive Ruth Rendell fan I would certainly avoid reading this, even if you don't pay anything for the book.
The only possible reason for reading the book I can think of is so that you can have a discussion with me about how annoying and unrealistic the characters are - and perhaps then you'll be able to understand a bit better what I have meant throughout my ramblings in this review!