Lord Martin Nanther is digging up the past, researching the life of his great-grandfather, the first Lord Nanther, in order to write his biography.
Henry Nanther was a physician to Queen Victoria, and an expert in diseases of the blood, in particular hemophilia. For his services to the Queen, Lord Nanther was the first surgeon to be granted a peerage. He kept meticulous notes and diaries, clearly desiring to one day be the subject of such a biography. However, as Martin delves further into Henry's life, he discovers discrepancies throughout, puzzling questions which seemingly make no sense. Such as, why did he break off his engagement to a wealthy heiress, marriage to whom would allow him access into the very social circle which he craved? Why did he choose to marry a poor solicitor's daughter instead? And what was the real story behind her violent death?
Even without these questions Martin is burdened enough. The House of Lords, in which he sits, is being reformed, and the hereditary peers (of which Martin is one) are being thrown out. If that weren't enough, his wife is unable to conceive the child she so desperately desires. To top it all off, Martin will also discover that his great-grandfather died with a monstrous secret.
This is a superb novel. Ruth Rendell has long been one of my very favourite authors, and reading this book has only cemented that opinion. I don't understand those who dont like tihs book. They perplex me inexpressibly. Did they not read it properly? Are they not incredibly stimulated by it, all the topics it covers and all the characters she flawless creates?
She weaves absolutely seamlessly between the past and the present. And the reader is just as interested in both plot strands (the research into Henry Nanther and the complications surrounding Martin Nanther's wife's inability to bring a child to birth.) She paints both eras excellently. Brilliant modern social observation and the ability to acurately depict our society, is matched by her ability to write authentically about events at the turn of the century.
The characters are drawn beautifully...very realistic and likeable (in particular, Jude, Martin's sorrowful wife) even the characters who lives over a hundred years ago are drawn well. Unusual for a Rendell novel, the characters are not actually mentally damaged in some serious way. There are no sleeping passions, no strange quirks, nothing which would make them seethe and finally explode. This is a tale about rather normal people uncovering horrible secrets from the past.
RR deals with the Reform of the House of Lords excellently. She offers us incredibly interesting glimpses into the institution, about which very little is known by most people. And the insights she gives us are truly fascinating. Martin's and the other hereditary peer's, departure from the Lord is written in such a way that it is subtly moving. The regalness and gothicness abd overall atmosphere is painted wonderfully. She has whetted the appetite, and i now wish i could know more about The House Of Lords!
The mystery about the first Lord Nanther's life slowly unfolds, and the truth is certainly strange.
There is so much that people reading this book could be interested in...there is genealogy, information on the royal family, information about blood diseases, in particular heamophillia, the subplot about the house of lords, the subplot of Jude's miscarriages...and, the icing on the cake, the mystery elements. This is truly a feast, and it is more than enough to satisfy her fans. Indeed, i think it will satisfy even those who are new to Vine/Rendell. All i can say is thank God for her - she is the best novelist currently at work in any language, and this is exceptional stuff even by her standards. If you don't love it, there's something deficient somewhere.