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Classic Rendell plot, but characters are clunky
The Water's Lovely - Ruth Rendell
Member Name: Catamarca
The Water's Lovely - Ruth Rendell
Date: 21/07/10, updated on 21/07/10 (22 review reads)
Advantages: Tension and plot
Disadvantages: Two-dimensional characters that are either boring or ridiculous
I've read the vast majority of Ruth Rendell's novels over the years, and always find them hugely readable. She has an ability to ratchet up suspense and dread like few other writers, while being able to do so from the perspective of detective, witness or culprit equally skilfully.
However, the quality of the writing and characterisation can vary dramatically. There are novels that are subtle and original (the brilliant Live Flesh), and there are others that feature clunky prose and unbelievable characters. Unfortunately, The Water's Lovely is in the latter category, and possibly its worst example.
As with most of the non-Wexford books, this story is set in London. The setting is vivid, and it's obvious here too that Rendell knows and is passionate about London. The novels that don't feature Inspector Wexford often feel like randomly stepping into the lives of Londoners ordinary and eccentric.
The Londoners in question are less impressive. The main characters are simply rather insipid. This is disappointing for a Rendell book, which normally draw on very characters with very particular traits and personalities. Ismay and Heather are the sisters around whom the mystery revolves. One comes across as dull and timid, the other silent, odd but worthy. Neither feels credible as a character. Their mentally unstable mother is similarly two-dimensional. Although these characters have been through events that should inspire sympathy in a reader, they are so flat it's hard to feel any interest in them, let alone feeling.
If the principal characters are boring, then some of the others are plain bizarre. There's Marion, who literally runs from place to place. I've tried to visualise this, and I just can't. It's too out there. There's the elderly Muslim man she tries to woo for gain, who is so solidly anti the Muslim stereotype that he feels less a character and more a right-on statement.
The language used is very simplistic compared to other novels by the same writer. It's almost impossible to believe the dialogue in particular was written by the person. It's irritatingly littered with references to the current time, which sadly age the book very quickly. It feels like an older writer trying too hard to be with it, and that's distracting. Just sticking to the story would have been a better tactic.
Aside from the characters and prose, the plot is essentially fine. The twists are there plus the nasty way plans and events seem to unfold to make the character's situation (Ismay's here) increasingly tense and unbearable. The latter is a real Rendell strength.
The ending is a disappointment, however. Again, too outlandish to have any real significance. It doesn't gel with the tone of the rest of the book. This is a relatively small part, though, so doesn't affect enjoyment too much.
Overall, the plot is still enough for me to give it three stars - I didn't regret picking it up and sped through to the end, so that qualifies as a good read. The rest was not up to scratch though, and this book lacks the psychological depth in particular that normally make Ruth Rendell vastly superior to the averge crime writer.
Summary: The weakest Ruth Rendell book I've read, but still worth a read