The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This one’s been lurking on the shelf for a while. Found at the library book sale, April 2010:
The Water’s Lovely was more like her Barbara Vine books than the other ones she’s written as Ruth Rendell. The Rendell books tend to be more police procedural; the Vine books more psychological thriller. This one’s not a thriller, exactly, but it’s more of a psychological mystery than a procedural one.
Previously on The Remainder Table… I wrote about Rendell’s An Unkindness of Ravens and Not in the Flesh and Vine’s Grasshopper. I’ve read some other Vine books, but that was before I started these posts.
Twenty-something Ismay shares a house with her younger sister, mother, and aunt. She and her sister live in the downstairs flat; her mother and aunt upstairs. Her mother, Beatrix, is mentally incapacitated and Beatrix’s sister, Pamela, has essentially given up her life to be her caregiver.
Precipitating Beatrix’s mental decline was the death of her second husband, Guy. Beatrix (prior to losing her mind) and Ismay both think Ismay’s sister, Heather, killed him, though there’s a possibility his death was accidental. But, they’ve never asked her or discussed it and so it’s festered for over a decade. It’s clear Ismay thinks her sister is not all there and has appointed herself Heather’s ‘companion.’
Ismay has a boyfriend, Andrew, who is an asshole. (But she’s in love…) Andrew looks like Guy, who Ismay had a crush on as teenager before he was possibly murdered! Things start to unravel when Heather starts dating Edmund. Ismay frets about whether he should know about The Secret. Andrew goes off the rails when Edmund starts staying overnight because he doesn’t like having to put clothes on before he goes to the bathroom in the night because he’s a psychopath.
There’s a cast of wacky supporting characters who are pretty entertaining. The ending isn’t particularly surprising, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. I think the story is more about what people will do—and what they will willfully choose to ignore—for the people they love, and how these actions can be both selfless (to protect the other person) and selfish (so they won’t lose the person they love / end up alone).