I 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.