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Adam and Eve and Pinch Me

Ruth Rendell


UK Paperback

ISBN: 0099426196

Pages: 448; Price: £6.99

Date Reviewed: 13th January 2003 

Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge © 2003



Mystery, Horror

07-15-02, 12-31-02

The opening of this novel sets the scene nicely for the tone of the book. One of the central characters, Minty, sees a ghost in her kitchen, and comments that one can't be afraid of something that is in one's own mind. This unlikely comment is the first of many delusions that the characters experience, as they all face or avoid the truth about their situation. Rendell has produced a complex novel with three central characters who all had relationships with an attractive rogue who was after nothing but their money. Reflecting the title, taken from a children's rhyming game often repeated by this anti-hero, these three women react to the events that overtake them in tangential symmetry, each having a couple to whom they defer and who know more about their situation than do the women themselves. The reader is also allowed access to these situations and Rendell plays the notion of dramatic irony for all it is worth. Like a Greek tragedy, we can see the hubristic actions and tragic flaws each character carries with them, which will eventually cause a crisis; we can even see those crises coming. Unlike a Greek tragedy, however, Rendell fails to make us care deeply about the fate of the characters, and all too often her climaxes become an anti-climax. There are, unfortunately, few if any truly sympathetic characters with whom the reader can identify; most are just too extreme and an element of pity is the strongest emotion aroused.

Rendell's greatest strength in this novel, however, is her remarkable detachment from the characters she has created, allowing the story of each of them to evolve without comment or judgment. The little details of everyday life, which she always portrays so well, are once again convincing here in lucid, down-to-earth prose, from the careful mapping of the story to the North London landscape to the day-to-day lives of her characters, who see films we have seen ourselves, are interested in media events we have read about, and eat foods we eat. The familiarity of these events should make the psychopathic tendencies of the characters and the events that result from these seem chillingly sinister, but all too often the effect is more like a homely soap opera than a thriller.

Food, in fact, features prominently here, but not as a sensuous experience as is so often the case in novels, but rather as a means of self-control. How we control our lives is an issue carefully examined in this novel, from the common-or-garden ways (trying to lose weight), to more extreme ways (anorexia), to the psychopathic (frantic illogical daily rituals and obsessive-compulsive disorder). The borders between right and wrong, good and evil are also considered here, mostly by the most normal character, an amiable and religious policeman whose universal concern slightly stretches our credulity; unfortunately his reflections on the subject do not make enough of a lasting impression to inspire any particular reaction from the reader.

The plot is neat, with a pleasing tightness and symmetry, and with a voyeuristic interest in the situations of the characters it makes for an enjoyable read. Unlike her previous novels, however, this one is unlikely to stay with you for long after you have read it; enjoyable, but forgettable - sadly not another Rendell classic.