Ruth Rendell - The Girl Next Door
"Rendells imagination is a marvel of engineering; finely tuned and running smoothly with precision."
The 1940's: It was all about the hands, all Woody could see were their hands touching, his on top of hers before they quickly withdrew them as he entered the room. But Woody had seen them, their deception and something had to be done about it.
Present Day: During work to add a basement to a house in Loughton, Essex a grisly discovery is made when a tin is unearthed amongst the foundations. The tin contains the severed hands of a man and a woman. Through forensic science, the hands are thought to have been placed in the tin about sixty years ago during the Second World War. The main question though is who did they belong to?
The 'qanats', an Arabic word for tunnels as christened by Daphne, was used by the children as their territory, their domain during the war years. There they could roast potatoes and be away from the watchful eye of their parents, until Woody threw them all out and demanded they didn't enter the tunnels again.
With the new discovery, the surviving children, now adults in the winter of their lives look back on their time in the 'qanats' and what they have done with their lives. After many years apart new relationships bloom and re-start leading to some life changing decisions; and all because of the hands in the tin.
'The Girl Next Door' is much more a Vine novel with the pull of the past being very significant and powerful in Rendell's latest book. There is no secret as to who planted the severed hands in the tin or why, but they remain the catalyst for what happens in the present. Rendell has shown with masterly fashion that being retired does not make one suddenly defunct or devoid of emotions such as lust, love and hate.
Rendell perfectly paints a portrait of the war years, the innocence of childhood during the bombing runs alongside avarice and evil of those who took advantage of a country in disarray. This is a book about life and how the actions of one person decades ago can still have an effect on those alive today. Even here Rendell deals with a particular subject that most would shy away from. This is an extraordinary piece of work for someone with fifty years under their belt, and you can only look on in admiration that a writer with such a back catalogue still persists to push not only boundaries, but herself.
This is very much a literary novel and by the end Rendell has managed to deliver swift demises on some, lingering regrets on another and a happy ending on a certain individual. This is a chronicle of life and shows that Rendell's imagination is a marvel of engineering; finely tuned and running smoothly with precision.
Reviewed by: C.S.