four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
By: 
Ruth Rendell
user_rating: 
0

A-The Water’s LovelyWhen Ismay Sealand’s stepfather drowns in the bathtub, Ismay and her mother, Beatrix, suspect he was done in by Ismay’s younger sister, Heather. Years later, a deranged Beatrix and her sister share a divided London flat with Ismay and Heather. The family has never discussed Heather’s involvement in the death, and the unspoken secret corrodes the family. Subplots swirl around this intense core, populated by awful characters: Ismay’s horrid boyfriend Andrew, the manipulative hypochondriac Irene (the mother of Heather’s suitor, Edmund), and the delightfully odious Marion, who takes advantage of anyone she can. At the center lurks an important question: will the truth ever emerge?
Crown. 340 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0307381366

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Rendell] delves into some of life’s most mysterious wonders: revenge, guilt, slights, and, most delicious, class warfare. … This is a master at the height of her powers." Erik Spanberg

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Rendell] draws her characters with an insightful yet light touch. … The main mystery presented by The Water’s Lovely is how an author so relentlessly prolific, with dozens of novels to her credit and another set published under the pen name Barbara Vine, can do such buoyant, impeccable work." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At 77, Rendell is in absolute top form here. … [She] provides the reader with many pleasures: her intelligence and humanity, her sculpted sentences, her jokeless wit, her refusal to join her colleagues in the torture-porn business to spice up her plots." Michael Sims

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"The Water’s Lovely is one of Rendell’s most virtuosic, shifting seamlessly from tart Barbara Pym-style social comedy to black comedy, to gothic horror, to romance, then back again. …
[W]hile she never explicitly judges her characters, Rendell has crafted for each a cruelly perfect fate, one that reflects, sometimes humorously and sometimes tragically, the kinds of lives they have lived."
Jennifer Reese

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rendell is a practiced hand at this distinctive breed of thriller and infuses her tale with a conflict as delicate as a house of cards. … In Rendell’s world, characters expire and implode quietly, with only the briefest moments of anguish in their terrified eyes." Clayton Moore

Philadelphia Inquirer 3 of 5 Stars
"What’s missing here, as in far too many of Rendell’s most recent novels, is a sense of compassion. It’s not that one needs to like any of the characters, but one must feel something for them." Sarah Weinman

Critical Summary

In The Water’s Lovely, three-time Edgar winner Ruth Rendell has written a subtle and darkly comic psychological thriller. The prolific Baroness, who also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, is best known for her Inspector Wexford series (starting with 1964’s From Doon With Death), but she has also produced many excellent stand-alone novels. Most reviewers wholeheartedly praised the book, describing it as "virtuosic" (Entertainment Weekly), suspenseful, and "gleefully energetic" (New York Times), with a "head-spinning finale" (Christian Science Monitor). Even the critics who felt it was not her strongest work had positive things to say about Rendell’s deft observations and dry wit. Fans of the genre will not be disappointed.