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Parallel plots pivot around pregnant, unmarried women living with their gay brothers in this compelling novel from Vine (the pen name of Ruth Rendell). Grace and Andrew Eaton share a house in contemporary London, while Maud and John Goodwin are tucked away in a village in western England during the period between the world wars. Each woman tussles with the mores of her era and with her brother's difficult boyfriend: Grace scraps with persnickety novelist James Derain, and Maud with lout Bertie Webber. Vine dissects the roots of homophobia in gay and straight alike, by period, virulence, and class. Homophobia-in a moment of pique-is what causes the novel's most crucial murder. The Child's Child is the title of a manuscript Grace reads, a roman a clef relating Maud's life that forms the central narrative. The quintessential narcissist, Maud ruminates about insults the way biblical scholars dwell on ancient texts. Vine excels at depicting such characters and succeeds in making them believable-and bearable. Though not as vivid as Vine's previous book, The Birthday Present (2008), this elegant offering clicks along like a well-tuned glockenspiel. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, offers a puzzle box of a suspense tale, in which themes and characters keep recurring from novels of Victorian times to those of contemporary London. The title itself is that of a novel within the novel, partially set in wartime London. Grace Easton is a privileged young Londoner, working on her doctoral thesis about the horrific treatment of unwed mothers in Victorian novels. She and her gay brother, Andrew, live together, and, very soon, Andrew invites an irresistibly handsome but loathsome man to live with them. This lover-lodger has contempt for Grace's research, saying that gay men have always faced more hardships. Quicker than you can say coincidence, Grace reads an unpublished novel about the treatment of gays and unwed mothers in the 1930s and '40s. Then a friend of Andrew's and James' is killed by homophobes, and Grace becomes an unwed mother. Readers may recoil at how mechanical the plot devices are here. The biggest flaw, however, is the voice of young Grace, who sounds like a fusty dowager, using words like albeit. Still, Vine offers an absorbing embedded novel and a great deal of fascinating and convincing literary and social history. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Rendell/Vine attracts a committed and sizable audience, even when she's not at her best.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist