Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Ruth Rendell No More Dying Then (1971)

     Ruth Rendell No More Dying Then (1971) Mike Burden’s wife has died of cancer, leaving him almost paralysed by grief, and unable to see what his emotional isolation is doing to his children and their aunt, who has come to help Mike look after them. Then a little boy disappears, Burden interviews Gemma, the mother, and falls in lust with her. She desires him for comfort, and for temporary distraction from her grief at the loss of her son John. The case eventually wraps up when Gemma discovers Leonie, her ex-husband’s mistress, with the boy. She refuses to press charges, because Leonie has always wanted a child. Mike lets her go with some relief, as she is not a suitable candidate for wife and step-mother of his children. But the affair has served not only to assuage his grief, but to teach him about the validity of emotion, which his narrowly moral view of the world has prevented him from recognising.
     The boy’s disappearance stirs up memories of a girl who disappeared a year or two earlier. Her body is found in a disused cistern. Her murderer however has suffered a stroke, and cannot be brought to justice.  He was in some sense avenging the death of his own daughter, allowed to drown by a supremely self-centred man who married the missing girl’s mother.
     Rendell is exploring several examples of parent-child relationships, grief, anxiety, fear, and self-centredness. Read as such, the novel would provide  materials for discussion by a reading club or college literature class. Read as a crime novel, it offers a couple of plausible puzzles and their solutions. Read as a chapter in Mike Burden’s life, it feels superficial. He condemns Gemma’s free-spirited style of life, with household duties scanted, dress to unconventional, moral judgments avoided or too mild for his taste, but it’s a condemnation too stereotypical to be as convincing a Rendell might wish it to be. However, his lust/love for her overwhelms him, and his relief when she rejects his offer of marriage and goes off to look after her son and live with Leonie, reveals the old Mike Burden, puritanical and duty-obsessed as ever, but far less judgmental.
     And odd duck of a book, which doesn’t quite fit into the Wexford canon. I read it over two days, but what kept me reading was not the crime but the psychology. **

No comments: