Thus far, I have read two Barbara Vine books, the other being Anna’s Book, and I have liked them both very much. But then I read three books she wrote as Ruth Rendell, and they were meh reads at best, with some weird stuff about women having nervous conditions, and I decided Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine was just not for me.
However, I bought A Dark-Adapted Eye at the book sale last year, in the faint hope that Barbara Vine would pull through after all, and then, because the hope was quite faint, I ignored the book I had bought for a year and a half. Until…what? Can you guess? Can you guess the point at which all this changed?
THAT IS RIGHT. UNTIL I INSTITUTED MY TBR SHELF.
I just cannot overstate how thrilled I am with the TBR shelf. I have read so many books from it. It’s bizarre! These are all books I owned and was interested in reading, and yet somehow having them out in general population never caused me to read them. Isolate them on their own shelf, and I’m tearing through them like nobody’s business. I’m making a speed sound effect right now, vvvvvvwwwww, to illustrate how speedily I’ve been reading my TBR books since instituting my TBR shelf.
I know. This is riveting. It would be impossible for anybody to get sick of hearing about my TBR shelf and its extraordinary efficacy. But this alleges to be a book blog, not a TBR shelf blog, so okay. I will talk about the book. I know y’all will find it boring, but don’t worry, I’m sure I will mention the TBR shelf again soon.
A Dark-Adapted Eye is about a woman called Faith who is contacted by a writer, Daniel Stewart, who wants to write a book about her long-dead aunts, Vera Hillyard and Eden Pearmain, the subjects of a pretty scandalous murder case in their time. Uncertain of whether she should help, Faith nevertheless begins to explore her own memory, and that of her surviving family members, to get to the bottom of what happened many years ago between Vera and Eden.
How greatly I enjoyed this book! I am revising my opinion of Barbara Vine back upward to get-from-library-author, though I still have no very good opinion of Ruth Rendell. For one thing, the book starts by telling the end and leaves a number of things about the middle ambiguous. It sets up little mini-mysteries and solves them or else keeps setting the stage to solving them. And then at the very end, when you think everything has been explained, it tosses in one of those last-minute things to remind you that you are not as smart as you think you are. Thus rendering the ending of the book all ambiguous. An ambiguous ending is glorious, glorious.
In addition to the pleasing structure of this book, it was very pleasingly written. When I was reading, I was aware of the mechanical pleasure of reading it. The language was lovely. The book was delicately, elegantly structured, doling out its revelations as if the reader already knew them and was just waiting to be reminded.
Books and Cooks
My Love Affair with Books
Tell me if I missed yours! Or if you are dying to hear more about my TBR shelf and how useful it is in making me read books I own and want to read.
I think I’ve read this book although I don’t remember now as I’ve read a lot of books by Barbara Vine. Do you know she’s also Ruth Rendell? She has a number of books that are indeed riveting.
I did know that! What Ruth Rendell books do you like best, if I may ask?
Interesting: you and Teresa taking opposite views on Vine. Hmmm, should I go with Scylla or Charibdis here?
Wait, what? I love Barbara Vine. LOVE HER! Or is there another Teresa you’re thinking of?
(Now worried that I’ve given someone, somewhere the impression that Barbara Vine is something other than amazing.)
Ha, see? No disagreement whatsoever! We all love Barbara Vine!
Right, so you’re Scylla AND Charybdis, all… um… eating the sailors of Barbara Vine.
I LOVED this book and reviewed it so long ago that I couldn’t say when! It was such a well written story and had such tension, and I also loved the ending. I am so glad that you loved this one. It really was a great read. I have a copy of Anna’s Book just waiting for me as well. Hope that I can get into it soon!
Yeah, I was crazy about the ending. It just reset all the counters. Marvelous. I liked this one much better than Anna’s book, actually, just because of the ending. Both are beautifully written though, and well-plotted.
I like Barbara Vine better than Ruth Rendell, too, although I like Rendell better than you do. I just think Rendell is a bit hit-or-miss. She has some very good ones and some meh ones, and I’ve never been much of an Inspector Wexford fan. Vine, on the other hand, does these beautiful odd dark psychological structural things, and for the most part is tremendous fun.
I think I must just have read three misses. Would you care to recommend some Ruth Rendell for me? Or, actually, tell me all the books to skip? That way I won’t have any negative experiences hereafter.
My tbr shelf has long since been integrated with all the other books. Do you have the habit of slipping things between books on your bookshelf? Like money, or postcards, or little notes? I do. And it always gives me such a nice little surprise. So, I decided to stick all those tbr books in random places. I was trying to capture a similar sentiment. It seems to work, so far! It’s nice to be like – Aha! I remember I really wanted to read that! Let me try it now…(it might be because I put those books in certain nooks between other books that I adore so some of that old familiarity of funness might’ve rubbed off onto the stranger books). By the way I like the title of this book…does it capture the book’s feeling very well?
I do that too! Well, not money so much these days because I never have any cash (too prone to spending it!), and also because I discovered I would accidentally lend books to people with money in them. :p
I think the virtue of having a dedicated TBR shelf is that I know where to place the priority. When the books are integrated into my other books, I just grab any old one — might be a new book, might be a reread, who even cares?
The title captures the book’s feeling so well. Excellent title in an excellent book.
I’m dying to hear more about your TBR shelf! What else is on it?
Oh, gosh, let’s see. Two Jane Gardam books that Europa sent me last year. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. Iris Murdoch’s The Bell. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. This book about obituaries and one about dictionaries. I don’t know what all.
What Jenny said re: Vine vs. Rendell, with the added thought that I think her non-Wexford Rendell books are getting more Viney. Mostly, it’s just her Wexfords I’m not crazy about. Still, I haven’t read a Barbara Vine book that I didn’t love, except maybe The Minotaur, which was still good, just not top-tier Barbara Vine. She does a lot of revealing the end before the beginning, and I love that.
As for what to read next, I read most of her books in a period of several months years and years ago, so now they’re all just one big lump in my mind. I remember liking Anna’s Book and A Fatal Inversion quite a lot. The Minotaur might be the only one I thought was only OK.
No! No big lump! I want to know which Ruth Rendell books to skip, and then I can read all the others. I only read one Inspector Wexford mystery, and two unimpressive non-Wexford books by Rendell (Vanity Dies Hard and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me).
Well, I’d just read all the Vines first because they’re the best ones (especially A Fatal Inversion). The Rendells that I remember most fondly are The Rottweiler, The Water’s Lovely, and Thirteen Steps Down, all pretty new. (Tree of Hands and Crocodile Bird are in the big lump from my mid-90s Rendell phase, but I’m pretty sure I liked those best. But I’m also not sure I entirely trust mid-90s me.)
But I don’t want to read the best ones first, I want to save the best ones for last! I want to read the worst ones first, and then go backwards towards the best. I guess I will save the good Rendells you recommend and start reading the less-good mysteries sooner. I’ll start with Inspector Wexford and if I get fed up with Ruth Rendell I’ll read one of her best books.
Jenny, you are a lunatic. Why would you read books you don’t like, when the world is full of book goodness?
I wish instituting the TBR shelf was as effective for me. While I love my TBR shelf (shelves, actually), I still manage to squeak around them. Blarg!
I’m afraid, to be honest, that I’ve been picking off the low-hanging fruit from the TBR shelf, and that I’ll hit a plateau. I don’t want that to happen though! I must just be ruthlessly determined to continue reading from my TBR shelf, that’s all.
I wanna hear more about the TBR shelf! With a picture, perhaps? TBR shelves are the best – I don’t know what I do without mine.
I’ve been sucking at blogging and commenting this summer, and I’ve missed you and your posts. Just wanted you to know that 🙂
I’ve been pretty bad about blogging too this summer. A couple of times I’ve done the Mark All As Read thing, which I hate doing. I’ve missed your posts too!
I can’t do a good picture of the TBR shelf, alas. It’s on a turning bookshelf. I would have to take four pictures. #insurmountableobstacle
My entire house is a TBR shelf. And yet I still end up at the book store more often than I should. I’m quite envious of that vvvwwww-ing you’ve got going on.
It’s slowed up a little bit. Hopefully this isn’t symptomatic of my whole future, but just a reflection of the fact that I have to read some library books first.
I really loved this book, too. Although I have been disappointed severely with some Barbara Vine novels. I find her an upsy-downsy sort of writer. But the best ones rock.
Aha! Good! You can tell me which books of hers are downsy. Which ones are downsiest and which ones are upsiest?
Please please Jenny could you write a whole post on your TBR shelf, with pictures?
I used to have a TBR shelf. But it grew and grew into a TBR bookcase and started getting all reproachful and duty-demanding so I stopped. I want to read a TBR success story.
Hahahaha, I can’t help feeling like everyone is humoring me because I’ve been babbling so much about my TBR shelf. :p It’s not a success story yet, anyway! Only a temporary success story.
I’ve become much fonder of Barbara Vine than Ruth Rendell. I agree they are sometimes patchy but always interesting. Grasshopper was a particular favourite of mine
Grasshopper, eh? Okay, I’ll save that one for last, or close to last.
You make me want to organise a TBR shelf. I don’t think one shelf (or one whole assemble of them) would be enough to fit them on, but I like the idea very much and think it would work.
Barbara Vine sounds interesting. I will be sure to start with this book when the time comes.
Yes, do! She’s a really good writer, with good prose and some very incisive observations, which I appreciate in a fiction writer.
I’m also reading books from my TBR and I’m astonished by how many fantastic books where there untouched .
I know! The books are easily as good as whatever I’d have gotten at the library! I don’t know why I’ve been letting them languish.
Ruth Rendell is my favorite writer, period, bar none – well, make that bar one: Barbara Vine. A DARK-ADAPTED EYE was actually the first book I read of hers under either name, and I’ve probably read it four times since. It’s not unusual for me to read a new Vine twice within the first year or so of publication, and I’ve read some of them four or five times each (I recently re-read another favorite, THE HOUSE OF STAIRS). My absolute favorite, under either name, is ASTA’S BOOK (ANNA’S BOOK in the US) – re-reading it has become almost an annual tradition, and I’ve read it either 13 or 14 times. Other fine Vines are A FATAL INVERSION and THE BRIMSTONE WEDDING. Several of the Rendell stand-alones are stunners, too: A DEMON IN MY VIEW, A JUDGMENT IN STONE (wherein she reveals the ending in the first line and dares you to stop reading), THE TREE OF HANDS, THE KILLING DOLL, THE BRIDESMAID (the last 2-3 pages are guaranteed to produce shudders), THE CROCODILE BIRD, A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES. And if you like ‘detective novels,’ her Chief-Inspector Wexford series (there are now 23) is excellent.
GRASSHOPPER is my least-favorite Vine – took me quite a while to get through it. It isn’t unusual for me to favorably reappraise a Vine on a second reading, but that hasn’t been the case with GRASSHOPPER because I’ve made two failed attempts at re-reading it and did get past hall-way through on either one.
Heh love hearing about your TBR shelf. Also, so odd that the books are so much worse when written under the different name!! Perhaps that is the point? Two different styles or something that she wanted to explore?
Rendell did indeed wish to go in a somewhat different direction from her other works, and chose to do it under the Vine pseudonym (though the public was aware right from the start that Barbara Vine was Ruth Rendell) – the Vine novels are more psychological studies than mysteries, though they certainly have elements of mystery, and often concern a crime or murder (though sometimes we don’t know until the very end just was has occurred, or to whom): mainly they are about the long shadows cast by old sins. Her readers were already used to her producing two kinds of books (the Wexford series and her psychological suspense stand-alones), but she wanted to signal that she’d gone in yet another direction. Interestingly, many of her reviews as Barbara Vine are superior to those she receives as Rendell, with many commenting about her writing as Vine being superior as well! Readers, apparently, CAN tell the difference (I can). And while fans often debate that some of her Rendell stand-alones could almost be Vines, she herself says that she always knows quite clearly, right from the start, before she starts writing, whether a book is to be a Rendell or a Vine.
I’d read a blog about the TBR shelf. A friend of mine alphabetized hers recently and is already on J. Vrrrrrrm sounds like the perfect velocity for getting through all the good stuff you know is waiting for you. I second (third? fourth?) the request for More Information About the TBR Shelf.
Pingback: Review: The Book of Lies, Mary Horlock « Jenny's Books
I tried to read A Dark Adapted Eye but I just couldn’t get into it.
What a shame! But I can understand why. It was a perfect mystery for me because they told you the end at the beginning, but I can see how that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
The second Vine, A FATAL INVERSION, has a neat twist on the last page – mystery novelist Julian Symons thought it the best-ever ending to a mystery novel.
Pingback: Review: From Doon with Death, Ruth Rendell « Jenny's Books