The story is about a genteel and respectable family whose members; especially two girls, live through an ordeal of emotions. A murder committed out of jealousy and insecurity rocks the world of two sisters who are extremely fond of each other. The incident, though occurring at the time of the Second World War, causes an irreparable damage to the reputation of the family and continues to haunt its members years after years when finally the niece musters up the courage to recount the lives of her aunts when approached by a book writer.
In this novel, Ruth Rendell elicits the flaws in the family system. Families that often exhibit compassion, love, respect, manners and great virtues can also be dysfunctional to the core. Page by page she uncovers hypocrisy, snobbism, jealousy, insecurity, manipulation and greed existing in the family. It makes you realize that genteelism and social status does not guarantee true happiness and genuine love from others.
Through the narrator’s (the niece) eyes the readers live through the entire story; therefore, it is all in the First person with a few supporting characters stating themselves as and when asked or remembered by the narrator. It will remind you of an English movie in which you know the incidents and happenings through conversations between the characters, and you feel the emotions through the thoughts and sensitivities of the narrator. Characters are not formally introduced to the reader but are detailed out as the story progresses to the extent that the narrator’s name is disclosed after the first 30 or 35 pages of the book. There’s no family tree drawn as well so readers might find it challenging to remember names and the relation of the family members. Also, the events in the story are not narrated in a chronological order but are disclosed through some random thoughts or actions occurring in the present. Having said all this, I feel that this makes Ruth Rendell unique and original in my eyes. The technique and craft that she uses to write is one of its kinds. She believes in serving a dexterously made platter in small quantities and keeping the reader hungry for more till the very last course. She excels in executing this technique.
It is one of those rare mysteries that I would like to reread due to three prime reasons in that order: the writer’s style, the finesse of the plot, and the feasibility aspect keeping in mind that it’s only 300 pages long! The characterization is vivid and above average. I felt the obsession of Vera (the elder sister) and the shrewdness of Eden (the younger one). And yes, you might want to justify the name of the novel after reading it. To this, I suggest think abstract and not about the physical eye.
Book Reviewed by Suchandra Ganguly
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