I started reading this book on holiday could not sleep thinking how it would end! Brilliant another fine Novel
Ive read a couple of Barbara Vine novels before that I have thoroughly enjoyed, so had high expectations of this. Barabara Vine is a pen name for Ruth Rendell, but she may as well be a completely different author. The Barbara Vine books are based far more around characters rather than situations and she allows the reader to get deeply into the characters personalities. Yet, they are far more believable that some of Ruth Rendells non-Wexford books.
Clodagh, who recently lost her best friend and lover when he was electrocuted while climbing a pylon (the grasshopper of the title) after encouragement from Clodagh, is packed off to London by unsympathetic parents. Planning to study for a degree, she is allowed to stay rent-free in the basement flat of one of her mothers relatives. Unfortunately, she is claustrophobic and finds living underground very challenging; coupled with the fact that she hates her course and rarely goes into college. She spends her days wondering the streets of Maida Vale and admiring the architecture.
Then she meets Silver, who lives in the top flat next door. They fall in love and he introduces her to his friends, all of whom have problems of their own. Silver was abducted as a child and is still suffering the consequences, Liv is agoraphobic and refuses to go outside, Johnny is a career criminal and Wim is only happy when climbing roofs. Together, they explore the rooftops of Maida Vale and come across a couple wanted by the police for abducting a child that they had not been allowed to adopt.
I liked Clodaghs character very much. She tells the story, so everything is seen through her eyes and so we get to know far more about her than anyone else. I felt deeply sorry for her. The death of her friend was partially her fault, but was not consistent with the amount of guilt she was forced to carry because of her parents. She was clearly deeply depressed at the beginning of the book and, having been there myself, I was very sympathetic. Once she meets Silver, her character changes and she becomes more confident and a little wild, taking chances on life that an older person would have avoided. Clodagh was a very realistic, believable and likeable character that made the book for me.
Her friends were somewhat less realistic. Silver, rich and privileged, likes to collect waifs and strays, including Liv, hiding from the police; Johnny, a serial criminal and girlfriend-beater; and Wim, who for some strange reason likes heights and is only happy when he is on the rooftops. Personally, Ive never met people like these. Silver was too good to be true and Johnny was too bad to the true. Liv was annoyingly unable to face up to her responsibilities and Wim was just plain weird. Yes, they added some interest to the book, but I prefer my characters to be both likeable and believable and these just werent.
The grasshopper of the title refers not to real grasshoppers, but electric pylons, responsible for the death of the main characters best friend. There are certainly moments of brilliance in this book and overall, I did enjoy it, but there were times when the book was so drawn out that I found it hard to carry on reading in the end, it took me about a week to finish it, which for me is incredibly long. I think the book could have lost at least 100 pages.
Although Clodaghs character was realistic, I found the whole thing about loving to climb roofs a little odd. The group became so excited about it, but I couldnt fathom why. Perhaps Im just too old and sensible now the characters are all in their early/late twenties and I suppose more inclined to behave wildly. Then again, perhaps Barbara Vine shouldnt be writing about a generation she is no longer part of.
One thing I did enjoy was the drawn out feeling of suspense. We are drip-fed information that kept my interest at times when I really was losing interest. For example, we are not told about Clodaghs situation until a few chapters in, although it is hinted at and although we know that something awful is going to happen at the end, it is not clear exactly what is going to happen until that point is reached.
This isnt really a book for fans of crime fiction or thrillers; although criminal acts do happen and in fact is the whole reason for the telling of the story, most of the book is describing the feelings of the main characters. It is not a thriller, because we are aware in advance that something bad is going to happen and so it is not a great shock. It is more a psychological drama, which the emphasis on drama and not thriller.
The writing style, as expected, flowed beautifully and naturally. Because Clodagh is telling the story, it does slip in and out of the present and the past, which is sometimes a little confusing, but I really enjoyed knowing that despite everything, things do turn out all right in the end.
I am going to recommend this book. It is definitely not without its faults, but it was an enjoyable enough read. However, it is not the best of Barbara Vines work; if you havent yet read any, I would recommend starting with The Minotaur or Blood Doctor.
The book is available from Amazon for £5.59. Published by Penguin Books, it has 544 pages. ISBN: 0140293027
A new novel from Barbara Vine (or Ruth Rendell, her alter ego) is always cause for celebration, and in this exceptional psychological thriller, she displays all her mastery of craft to draw the reader into an unfamiliar world. She paints a vivid picture of the roots of obsession in the history of a young woman whose love of high places has been marked by tragedy, guilt, and exile from her family's home.