Brought Down by Scandal ; in Her Latest Foray into Criminal Psychology Ruth Rendell Wreaks Havoc on the Well-Planned Career of an Ambitious Young Tory MPBOOK OF THE WEEK

By Sexton, David | The Evening Standard (London, England), August 18, 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Brought Down by Scandal ; in Her Latest Foray into Criminal Psychology Ruth Rendell Wreaks Havoc on the Well-Planned Career of an Ambitious Young Tory MPBOOK OF THE WEEK


Sexton, David, The Evening Standard (London, England)


The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine(Viking, [pounds]18.99 )

WHAT would it take to make a selfish, posh, lustful and ambitious Tory MP into a nicer man? Ruth Rendell has a pretty good idea.

The Birthday Present is the 13th novel Rendell has published under the name of Barbara Vine (her own middle name and her grandmother's maiden name), beginning with A Dark-Adapted Eye, back in 1986. These novels have always been more complex than those published under her own name, often reaching back a long way into the past to uncover crime and guilt that can never be escaped or expiated. Many of them also use London settings powerfully, exposing the way that completely different worlds co-exist here without meeting and can then wreak havoc when they do intersect.

Rendell observes the harm people do one another with peculiar detachment, seeming not to care about what happens to them. One critic memorably put it thus: "Ruth Rendell writes about people as coolly as a behaviourist observing the effects of fear or pain on laboratory rats." Sometimes the effect of not having to feel too much sympathy for or involvement with her characters is oddly exhilarating and liberating to the reader.

"As flies to wanton boys &" At other times, the sense that none of the characters is actually likeable, or at least certainly not much liked by their author, paralyses one's interest. Rats, flies, who cares? The Birthday Present has two narrators.

One is a decent bore, tangential to the action, who introduces the story; the other a nutty spinster, critical to it, whose awful diary we read.

Rob Delgado, an accountant and devoted father of four, is the loyal brother-in-law of Ivor Tesham MP. Ivor is an Old Etonian barrister, a former president of the Oxford Union, from a well-off Norfolk family with a long track record in politics. At 31, he is elected to a seat often held before by his family and begins to plan his rise in the Conservative Party, surviving the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1992, prospering under John Major, becoming a Minister of State in the Department of Defence.

Ivor is good-looking, confident and, within the limits of his code, a man of honour. He's also highly sexed and a little bit kinky.

His mistress is blonde, long-legged Hebe Furnal, 27, faithlessly married to Gerry, a charity fundraiser, with whom she has a two- year-old son. They live modestly, between West Hendon and Edgware, an area that Ivor dismisses as the "sticks" or sometimes the "boondocks" and has never visited.

Ivor picks up Hebe almost instantly, when she attends a parliamentary reception for her husband's charity. Their sex life involves a lot of "games and dressing up and enactments" and they have phone sex every day, despite Hebe's two-year-old son shouting, "Don't talk, Mummy, don't talk." For her actual trysts with Ivor, Hebe relies on alibis provided by a subservient friend, Jane Atherton, telling her husband they're seeing a movie or having a girlie dinner at Cafe Rouge.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Brought Down by Scandal ; in Her Latest Foray into Criminal Psychology Ruth Rendell Wreaks Havoc on the Well-Planned Career of an Ambitious Young Tory MPBOOK OF THE WEEK
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?