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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Child's Child

I always feel like I'm taking a well deserved break when I read a Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) novel. I don't feel guilty because I know I'll get through it in no time and go back to life's demands.

This book is structured as two parallel stories set in different eras but dealing with identical themes. In the contemporary story Grace shares a residence with her brother, Andrew who is gay. Everything is going swimmingly until Andrew's lover moves in. There is friction between Grace and James who takes offense at the subject of her PhD thesis. In his view Grace equates the stigma of unmarried motherhood with that of homosexuality. She believes that he is the type of gay man who despises all women. Then Grace becomes pregnant and Andrew and James witness the murder of a friend and everything changes.

The parallel story (circa 1929-1945) is an unpublished novel written by the father of one of Grace's friends and presented to her to read and provide an opinion on whether it should be published. Like the other story it addresses attitudes towards homosexuality and unwed motherhood which were much more unforgiving 80 years ago. John is a gay teacher who seeks to escape his sexuality which he feels is sinful by applying for a teaching job where no one knows him. At the same time Maud, his very young sister, becomes pregnant and is put out by her family. John decides to take her with him to his new posting and pass her off as his wife. They settle into the village hoping to raise their daughter, Hope, without anyone discovering their secrets. The only fly in the ointment is John's former lover, Bertie, who shows up and John cannot resist resuming their relationship. Maud is disgusted by their relationship and as she grows older becomes embittered about having abandoned any possibility of a fulfilling normal adult life. Her daughter is the centre of her universe until Hope approaches adolescence when fractures occur in the mother-daughter relationship. John disappears and Maud seems remarkably stoic even when she discovers that he has been killed.

The novel-in-a-novel technique struck me as a heavy-handed way of addressing whether society treated homosexuals or unwed mothers worse a century ago, although I agree with Barbara Vine's view of social mores. Still Barbara Vine at her worst is still better than many other writers at their best. The Child's Child was readable because it had just the right level of tension throughout to keep me interested. If like me you are a fan of her work chances are you'll like it.

1 comment:

Jackie/Jake said...

Thank you! A new Barbara Vine getting added to my TBR list!!