I picked up my first Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell novel for two reasons; the story was centered around the London Underground and because I had seen the TV adaptation of Dark Adapted Eye. I have to say I’m slightly disappointed, even though sticking with the book to the end. Halfway through this convoluted tale, filled with strange variations of loser characters, I did not know the plot. There’s a large former schoolhouse in London that is let out by the landlord Jarvis. This includes Alice, a woman escaping both a dull husband and her newborn child; Tom, a busker who scrapes by and takes up with Alice; Jed, who keeps a falcon; Tina, a freewheeling spirit with two children, one of which is Jasper a rough 10-year-old who thrill seeking is undertaken by riding the roofs of underground trains. There’s also a dark-clad figure, Axel, and his companion who dresses up in a bear suit and terrorizes passengers with confrontational theater.
Jasper, Jed, Jarvis: three “J” males. Try keeping these straight as the narrative jumps between them. There’s also Tina’s mother Cecilia, who lives elsewhere and who had unmentionable, suppressed Sapphic longing for her longtime friend Daphne.
I kinda expected all these lives to intertwine in strange, unexpected ways, but so many of them are loners and socially inept that, despite renting rooms in one big house, they don’t. Of a main plot, there is the one of Alice, escaping a controlling marriage and finding a controlling relationship with Tom, until being seduced by the dark charisma of Axel, who, I don’t think it would be ruining anything seeings I guessed it in the earlier chapters, is a mad bomber. I finished the book, and I’m relieved.
Though mentioned as a book about the underground, the author shows no affection for the system–the tube is portrayed as dark, polluted, and full of strange, pleblike people. Oh well.
King Solomon’s Carpet – Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)