THE CHILD’S CHILD is doubly deceptive because its narrative turns on two parallel plots about sexual taboos, each set in a different time frame but dealing with identical themes of love, loyalty, betrayal and murder. The contemporary story is told by Grace Easton, who takes up companionable residence with her older brother, Andrew, a “fashion-conscious gay man,” in the spacious house left them by their grandmother. But what seemed a smart move proves otherwise when Andrew falls in love with an exquisite but neurotic young man who moves in and disrupts the household by tangling with Grace, who dismisses him as “one of those gay men who disliked women, all women.” He’s particularly offended by her Ph.D. thesis on the stigma once attached to “unmarried mothers,” enraged that she dares to compare their social condemnation to the persecution of gay men who were “ostracized, attacked, killed.” Although it’s awkwardly introduced, an unpublished novel written decades earlier provides the parallel plot about another brother and sister who share a home. John Goodwin, a teacher both ashamed of and repelled by his own “homosexualism,” resigns himself to a life of celibacy by moving to the Devon countryside and establishing a sham marriage to protect his pregnant unmarried 15-year-old sister, Maud. Just as Andrew Easton is undone by love, John Goodwin becomes infatuated with a beautiful but dangerous hustler who torments him for what remains of his unhappy life. Exercising her discreet skills of misdirection, Rendell keeps so tight a focus on John’s suffering that we’re scarcely aware of what havoc social deprivation has wreaked on Maud. After years of living a secret life, she emerges as “the kind of woman common in their family, narrow, censorious, quick to pass judgment,” the same kind of disapproving person, in other words, who drove her and her brother from the family home. In Rendell’s chilling view, what goes around comes around, and the injustices of one age are bound to have horrid repercussions, even in supposedly enlightened societies like our own.
Release Date: December 4, 2012
From three-time Edgar Award–winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell, writing here under her Barbara Vine pseudonym, an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about brothers and sisters and the violence lurking behind our society’s taboos When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair—until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace’s doctoral thesis soon puncture the house’s idyllic atmosphere. When he and Andrew witness their friend’s murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house. Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript—a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child’s Child—never published because of its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories. The Child’s Child is an enormously clever, brilliantly constructed novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, in her newest work under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society’s treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed—and how sometimes it hasn’t.