Sunday, February 14, 2010
I read this Ruth Rendell novel on a flight to London a few weeks ago. We were staying a stone's throw from Portobello Road and I got great delight out of recognizing various locations mentioned in the book. This is a quirky little story that evolves after Eugene, an art dealer with an addictive personallity, finds an envelope full of money and decides to find the owner. Doing the right thing leads to unexpected consequences - burglary, addiction, madness, arson and even murder. The novel oozes atmosphere and all of the motley crew of characters are convincing. We catch glimpses of well-to-do Londoners and also of those who couch surf and don't know where their next meal is coming from. This is not a real crime story although criminal acts are committed. Rather it's a snapshot of the denizens of a neighbourhood on the cusp of gentrification, their forced entanglement and the power of addiction, no matter how seemingly benign. The frisson of foreboding that runs through the novel doesn't culminate in a big bang ending but I wasn't disappointed. If you're visiting London read Portobello on the plane over and follow it up with a walk through the streets you've just read about.