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Book Club: The Water's Lovely

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Book Club: The Water's Lovely

Crime writer Ruth Rendell has been the literary drug of choice for generations of Brit readers. With her 55th whodunit now out in paperback, the MC book club considers how well she's holding up.

THE PLOT: Ruth Rendell's latest, The Water's Lovely, is the story of Ismay and Heather Sealand, whose stepfather drowned in the tub when they were both teenagers. Ismay thinks 13-year-old Heather had something to do with it, though they never discussed it. Now, a decade later, life has returned to normal, except that Ismay is afraid Heather may strike again. So what really happened in the bathroom the day their stepfather died? Dum-da-dum-dum . . .

YAEL (ASSOCIATE EDITOR): The whole book reminded me of Murder, She Wrote. In the first five pages, I felt like Grandma should be sitting in an armchair, with a fire going in the background, saying in a low, rolling voice, "This is a tale of two sisters whose stepfather was murdered, and the image of his face was floating in water."

JESSICA (ASSOCIATE EDITOR): Well, Rendell does look like Angela Lansbury in the author photo.

EILEEN (ASSISTANT EDITOR): I felt like it was written in the 1800s. The style was very formal: "She heard Heather get up and move very softly into the kitchen. Should she hand over her stewardship of Heather, half-hearted though it had been, to Edmund [Heather's fiancé]? . . . " Stewardship? And everyone was dating to get married! It was like Jane Austen or something.

LAUREN (ARTICLES EDITOR): Or Emily Brontë, because at first it was kind of Gothic. Rendell opened the story with dead bodies, and it was creepy, and I liked that. But then it turned into this sub-par murder mystery with no suspense, no thrills.

YAEL: I wouldn't go that far. Rendell is one of the best mystery writers out there. For what it's worth, the reviews for this book were excellent.

EILEEN: I felt like I was missing something in the style because I'm not British.

JESSICA: I just kept waiting for that strange twist that never, ever came.

EILEEN: It was totally predictable!

LAUREN: Yeah, even though Rendell went on about this kind of affair between Ismay and her stepfather, as soon as Heather came down the stairs, and you could see her body through her dress, I knew she was the one being molested.

YAEL: Maybe that's generational. We're so used to shows like Law & Order: SVU that things like a man raping his 13-year-old stepdaughter don't shock us anymore.

JESSICA: I couldn't understand how Ismay and Heather were supposedly so close they couldn't live without each other, but then never talked about the murder.

YAEL: Oh, I could imagine not talking about something that traumatizing—because Ismay would have to admit she was having a pseudo-affair with her stepfather, and Heather would have to admit that she was raped. Sometimes it's just uncomfortable to ask those questions, so you don't.

LAUREN: So what's the upshot?

YAEL: To me, the book was about living with secrets. And that I really liked.

LAUREN: You're giving it a lot of credit.

NEXT MONTH: The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's Griffin)
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