A DARK-ADAPTED EYE is the first Barbara Vine book, the first of a long line of excellent novels that showed Ruth Rendell's ability to craft stories superior even to her more conventional mysteries. In this haunting tale of bitter sibling rivalry, Vine makes it clearly known from the beginning that Vera Hillyard brutally murdered her younger sister, Eden. Unlike many mysteries, however, this early revelation, usually reserved for the conclusion, only makes the story more compelling and suspenseful. Rather, the real mystery, the mystery that Barbara Vine is concerned with, is the question of what can drive a human to madness and murder. The final climax is truly riveting and moving, which is quite an achievement, considering that I anticipated it throughout the entire story, and that the main action had already taken place thirty years ago. However, Vine's characterizations are so deftly woven that I found the climax to be heart-wrenching, gripping, and disturbing. The plotting is subtle throughout, but it is only at the very end, after a series of deliciously twisted revelations, that one comes to appreciate the intricacy and complexity of Vine's plot, which does not resolve itself, but leaves the reader hanging with a number of unanswerable questions. This is a wonderfully written novel likely to leave some impression on the reader for some time. From first page to last, a masterpiece.
Since her first novel, A DARK-ADAPTED EYE, Barbara Vine has written several superb psychological thrillers. A FATAL INVERSION, THE HOUSE OF STAIRS, ANNA'S BOOK, and THE BRIMSTONE WEDDING in particular are exceptional suspense novels. But not one of them comes even close to A DARK-ADAPTED EYE which, after more than a decade, is still the best Rendell/Vine novel to date. What drove Vera Hillyard to brutally murder her younger sister Eden? The answer turns out to be far more complex than the question. Wryly narrated by their niece, Faith Severn, this flat-out brilliant story brings to light a hidden world of love, lust, greed, and pain. Vine's characters aren't just well-developed; they are completely real and totally convincing. What distinguishes A DARK-ADAPTED EYE from Rendell/Vine's other novels is that aside from the usual intricate plotting and realistic sense of place, the conclusion is gut-wrenchingly emotional. As the inevitable tragedy approaches, the suspense escalates to a fevered pitch, and the final climax manages to be riveting and deeply moving. More than any of her other books, A DARK-ADAPTED EYE shows that the mystery genre is not at all inferior to serious fiction; on the contrary, the mystery genre at its best delivers the best that the literary world can offer.
If not for sexism and genre-snobbery, Ruth Rendell, alias Barbara Vine, would be recognized as one of the greatest living writers, and this book is her masterpiece. Vera Hillyard undoubtedly committed a murder and was duly hanged for it. More than thirty years later, Daniel Stewart, a writer researching a "re-examination" of the case, approaches Vera's niece, Faith. In helping Stewart, Faith is drawn back into the past. It is Faith who has the "dark-adapted eye" and can see murky things in the past (both about society and about her own family) that her modern-day grown children can't begin to comprehend. The book is replete with symbolism and secrets: secrets springing from the repressed sexual mores of the forties and fifties, touching on homosexuality, illegitimacy, adultery, and supposedly virgin brides. The richness and complexity of the narrative, the bell-ringing realness of the emotions described, and the capture in amber of mid-twentieth century attitudes, make this a book to read over and over, and to recommend to everyone you know.
how sad that ruth rendell/barbara vine is relegated to the "mystery" shelves, she is so magnificient a writer she compares to Hardy, Cheever, etc. she even tops them! If I had one wish at the end of my life, it would be to have it written down by ruth rendell/barbara vine, not for senstaionalism purposes, but for the intelligence, compassion and understanding she brings to her subjects and her subjects lifes. after reading what the author wrote, I'd understand myself better than if the creater of the universe had written it down (no blashpemony intended). Thats all i can say, she is just such a great writer, you truly enter another place and time reading her books. Read every one she wrote you won't regret it.
The plot of this book is too complex to be revealed. But once you have finished reading this novel, you'll wonder at how anyone could have pulled it off. And Ruth Rendell does, beautifully. I love Ruth Rendell. She is irreplaceable. Even her weakest novels are worth reading, and when she's on. . .well, there's nobody who can compare. This book is one of her strangest and most perfectly written. I read it years ago, and haven't forgotten one detail. Read this book and be amazed at the spell a writer can cast!
This lady is a fantastic writer on all levels -- plot, characterization, structure, theme and you name it. She is a true master of the art of literature, and this is the best of all her books. Ruth Rendell, her alter ego, is okay, but Barbara Vine is tops! Buy this book and I guarantee you'll read it rapidly and then buy all the rest.
A simple statement: if this is a mystery novel, then it is the best British mystery novel since the war. One often hears claims for "genre writers", that they are creating literary novels. In this case it is not in any doubt, the book is a sinister masterpiece.
The book was great, and definitely deserves acclaim. I don't think I've read an inverted mystery better than this. However, the plot begins thick and eventually just thins out. The book was great, but was kind of unfinished.
Although I had already seen the PBS mini-series version of this book and knew the outcome, it was worth reading - how many books can you say that about? Very subtle with many twists - very enjoyable to read.