The Water’s Lovely – review

water.jpgI recently read a piece in the New Statesman that I disagreed with. It was entitled Magical Mystery Tour and argued that Ruth Rendell – ‘the mistress of the whodunnit’ – is the most important chronicler of modern day Britain. I grimaced at the suggestion frankly, and immediately came up with two far superior chroniclers in Martin Amis and Will Self; but I figured that I should probably actually read one of Rendell’s books before I jumped to such conclusions.

The next time I was in town, I picked up The Water’s Lovely and I finished reading it last night.

In The Water’s Lovely we have sisters Ismay and Heather who live in a flat downstairs, and their demented mother Beatrix and her sister Pamela who live in a flat upstairs. Some twelve years ago, when the house was one, Ismay and Heather’s stepfather, Guy, drowned in the bath. Due to circumstances on the day of Guy’s death, Ismay believes that Heather killed him. This is the central storyline of the book. There’s also Ismay’s cruel boyfriend, Andrew; Heather’s adoring boyfriend, Edmund; Edmund’s manipulative mother, Irene; Irene’s mercenary friend, Marion; Marion’s wealthy boyfriend, Barry; and a smattering of other characters whose lives intertwine throughout the story.

For what felt like most of the novel, Ismay conducts a tedious and repetitive internal monologue about Heather’s alleged involvement in Guy’s death. The rest of the novel, the author flits from one character to another describing their carry-ons and interactions. It’s gripping, I’ll admit, in that easy and unchallenging way one sometimes likes in a book. I couldn’t help be irritated, though, at the book’s appalling editing. For example: ‘It wasn’t a free-standing bath.’ Two pages later, ‘It was a free-standing bath.’ Or: ‘Ismay and Heather lived downstairs; Beatrix and Pamela lived upstairs’. A page later: ‘Ismay and Heather decided to return to their flat upstairs.’ There’s just no excuse for that, really.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time with them all and was happy to see that Rendell tried to end her novel with a couple of twists (one I predicted and the second was unrelated to anything and a bit of a letdown), although I won’t read her again. Rendell’s got a talent for intrigue, I dare say, but an important chronicler of modern day Britain she simply is not. I don’t know where the author of the New Statesman’s piece got that idea but I can say with confidence now that I disagree with him. More Amis for me, I think. Now there’s an important chronicler if ever there was one.

7 responses to “The Water’s Lovely – review

  1. I’m more worried that you take the New Statesman seriously.

    I like the New Statesman, and I think it gets more criticism than it deserves. Yes, some of its content is spurious, but there are very few publications where that isn’t the case.

    And ‘Ismay’ sounds like a brand of air freshener.

    I think her personality wasn’t unlike a tin of air freshener.

  2. Hey – I agree entirely. She does seem quite out of touch with modern life — the weird aside about how the stepfather was wicked but not ‘wicked’ the way the whippersnappers use it was odd — and the tsunami thing was out of left field. Also, i’m not real sure what she’s trying to say when the scam artist ends up in a good and profitable marriage while the nice girl ends up with the cad AFTER the other girl is killed. very strange.

  3. Hello Steve. 🙂

    Absolutely! And, clearly, the stepfather wasn’t ‘wicked’ at all, really, because she really wanted it. Way to oppose child abuse there, Ruthie!

    I don’t even know what she was trying to do with all those relationship outcomes but she certainly seems to have a sinister sense of humour. Clearly it pays to be a big meanie! 😉

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