September 13, 2009

The Birthday Present - Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is an author who showed me just how much taste in books can differ from person to person. The first book of hers that I read was A Dark Adapted Eye. My father read it a few weeks before me and hated it - I remember him commenting that he was bored with the book because nothing happened in it, and that he wouldn't have finished the book except for the fact that he was convinced that *something* would have to happen at some point before the end! Even after such a review, I did read it a few weeks later (based in a contradictory review by one of my friends) and loved it!

Barbara Vine is a nom de plume used by Ruth Rendell, and having never read any books by Ruth Rendell, I tried to do some research to discover the difference between books by Ruth Rendell and books by Barbara Vine. The conclusion of my not-so-extensive research is that there isn't much of a difference. Ruth Rendell's books started out as standard crime mysteries, then progressed to more psychological crime books, while Barbara Vine's books started out that way. Another theory was that she wanted to switch publishers so changed her name. Or a third theory is that she was producing books too quickly and in order to capitalize on the market, she was advised to publish under two different names. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the three theories.

Anyways, while I have never read anything by Rendell, I have read several books by Barbara Vine and have always found them to be a compelling read. So when I came across The Birthday Party the other week, I didn't hesitate to buy it. And I wasn't disappointed.

Similar to several other books I have read in the past year (Through Black Spruce and The Other Side of the Bridge amongst others), the story is told from two different perspectives, however they don't alternate so at the start of each chapter, I found that I had to read a few sentences to figure out who was speaking. I liked this, but I can see that not everyone would.

It is basically the portrait of a self-centred, self-interested person, Ivor, who was a (fictional) member of parliament in the British government in the 1990s under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. There are definite historical references (hard to avoid when the main character is a politician), and I found it easy to forget that the book was fiction. Anyways, Ivor gets into a situation that could jeopardize his political status and does everything possible to avoid having it discovered, to the point where he is totally uncaring of the effects of his actions on anyone other than himself. The story is told in the first person by his brother-in-law writing in the present (2008), as well as the diaries of the friend of his now-dead mistress, written as events unfold.

I polished this book off in only a few sittings. It was as just as gripping a story as I had expected, and I really must dig out some more of her books that I haven't read yet. I'll probably pass this book on to my sister who enjoys books by Minette Walters - like her books, Barbara Vine goes behind the story and tries to figure out the why's.

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