Wednesday 17 September 2008

Profile of Ruth Rendell

I've just been watching an ITV 3 programme profiling Ruth Rendell and although, like so many similar shows, it wasn't exactly an in-depth examination of her work, it was nevertheless a worthwhile and competent overview, with interesting comments from Val McDermid, Andrew Taylor and others.

I've never met Ruth Rendell, but over the years she has kindly agreed to my including a number of her short stories in CWA anthologies that I've edited. She is a very fine short story writer indeed, and this aspect of her remarkable talents is often overlooked. But it is, of course, the novels she has written under her own name and as Barbara Vine that have caused her to be regarded by many people (including me) as our finest living crime novelist.

I first started reading her shortly after she published The Lake of Darkness; I borrowed it from a library and found it quite marvellous. Make Death Love Me and The Face of Trespass were as good, and A Judgement In Stone even better. I enjoy the Wexford books too, while the Vine novels are, for the most part, superb. One or two of her more recent books have not, perhaps, quite hit the mark, and some have wondered if, since becoming a Labour peer, she has allowed her political views to intrude a bit too much in a few of the novels. I've seen this suggested in a review of her latest, The Birthday Present. However, in the TV show she made it clear that she didn't want to preach to her readers and I'm certainly looking forward to picking up the new book. Even if it does not reach the heights of A Fatal Inversion or A Dark-Adapted Eye, I'm sure that it will be well worth reading.


Juliet said...

The Rendell programme (along with profiles of Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin and Val Mcdermid)can be watched on ITV catch-up via this page: . I've got quite a lot of catching up to do myself now!

Laura Benedict said...

Someone whose opinion I respect very much recommended Rendell's Barbara Vine books to me recently--is there one I should start with, Martin?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have to say book for book over the years, no one has give me more pleasure. I heard her speak once in 1995 at a Waterstones in Manchester and she was not a likable woman and that affected my reading of her after that. Someone questioned something in Kingsmarkem, and she said with great scorn, "You know it is my Kingsmarkem and I can do what I wish with it."

Martin Edwards said...

Patti, I suspect RR is very shy and that is why she came over badly at Waterstones. Similarly, at a Dead on Deansgate convention, again in Manchester, she was a rather nervous guest of honour, much less at ease than fellow guest of honour Reg Hill, who (as I recall) teased her a little in his very accomplished speech.
Laura, I'd recommend A Fatal Inversion. Crime novels do not come any better, in my opinion.
Juliet - me too!

Anonymous said...

A Dark Adapted Eye always struck me as an attack on the pre-sixties feminine ideal. Of course, what makes it effective is that it doesn't make overt pronouncements but reveals its thesis in the characters and events of the novel.

Martin Edwards said...

I very much agree, Curt, and that's why it's earned more acclaim than one or two of her most overtly political recent novels.