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by Barbara Vine, read by Sarah Coomes
Brilliance Audio, December 2012
Unabridged pages
ISBN: 1469276070

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Grace and Andrew Easton have inherited a large house in London from their grandmother that they soon come to share with Andrew's lover, James. The once inseparable siblings soon find themselves at odds; to go into the details of their unhappiness would divulge too much of Vine's plot. Their misery is exacerbated when Andrew and James witness a friend's brutal murder near a gay bar. Sure he will be called upon to testify at the trial James has a breakdown of sorts, and soon the men decide to live elsewhere.

Once the men decamp, Grace is free to contemplate a never-published novel from 1951 called The Child's Child, which echoes the themes of her doctoral thesis, which she has recently handed in to her university. Grace believes that historically unwed mothers and homosexuals faced similar social opprobrium and ostracism. The novel indeed appears to prove her point. Maud is a fifteen-year-old pregnant girl in the years shortly after World War I. The laws have just been changed to raise the age of marriage to sixteen, so she is unable, even were the biological father willing, to wed and make her child legitimate. Her outraged family threatens to send her to a Methodist work home for unwed mothers, though it is not clear that they truly intend to do so. To rescue her from her fate, her older homosexual brother, John, takes her away to a small town in Devon, where he introduces her as his wife. He has just taken a new post there as a teacher. He hopes that the ruse will help keep him away from other men as well, especially his London lover, Bertie, and from the advances of the single female schoolteachers, with whom he works.

Of course, this scheme doesn't work out well for either of them. The arrangement is a difficult charade for both. Though everyone would shun Maud if they knew her true relationship to John and her tender age, still she loathes homosexuals, whom she views as "disgusting." Herein lies a sad truth that isn't particularly original: Just because people are oppressed doesn't mean that they will find common cause with those discriminated against for another reason. In fact, they may find pleasure in putting other oppressed people down.

As a result, I found the historical narrative rather predictable. Maud is also an unsympathetic character - forever sorry for herself and feeling that the world owes her something - that it's hard to embrace her plight, despite the interesting historical detail. John is so much more interesting that one wishes there were more of him. And the return to the present-day parallel is all-too brief.

Perhaps my unenthusiastic take on Maud is somewhat influenced by the performance of Sarah Coomes. Her Maud is slightly nasal and whiny. While these may be good and accurate choices, they are difficult to listen to over many disks. In addition, Coomes does not exhibit a great range in terms of her portrayal of the other characters. She actually does best with some of the minor players, such as some of Maud's Devon neighbors. She also gives Bertie a wonderfully rollicking cadence to his voice, which is both jolly and very annoying, but it captures exactly how highly Bertie thinks of himself.

Ruth Rendell, writing here as Barbara Vine, is certainly one of the more active authors in the crime genre, and many of her works have been among my favorites. While I thought THE CHILD'S CHILD had a potentially interesting topic and construction, in the end I was disappointed with some of the characters and the writing.

Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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