2009: 64. The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy

He wanted a family of his own.  He was very young when he understood this, fifteen or sixteen.”

The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, Barbara Vine

This is one of my very very favorite books by Rendell - maybe even one of my favorite books period, and it is one of the reasons that I consider myself a bigger “Vine” fan than a “Rendell” fan. I like and respect what she writes under the name Ruth Rendell, but I often love what she does under the name Barbara Vine.  Like many of the best Vine novels, this is not really a murder mystery, but rather a mystery of a family.  Gerald Candless is a famous novelist who unexpectedly drops dead.  The death devastates his devoted daughters - he adored his children and is the center of their world, even as he froze out his wife.  When his oldest is asked to write a memoir of her beloved father, she readily agrees to do so - to honor him and to help her grieve.  However, she soon learns that she knew very little about the man she so loved, and the book is all about her digging up his secret past.  

I don’t want to give the plot away - the learning what happened is one of the joys of reading this book, but I will say that the more I read it and think about it, the more heartbreaking I find Gerald’s story, so that even while you can despise him for how dreadfully he treated his wife, Ursula,  (who is also a main character - half the book is about her coming to terms with her new freedom in light of his death, and dealing with how he treated her) I can’t help but pity him for what led him to his life and how he hid his past.*  

It’s also interesting to consider this novel in the light of the last book I blogged about, The Great Man.  It covers many of the same themes, in that it is, at least in part, the story of the wife of a famous artist, and how her life is dominated and hurt by him and his actions.  And like The Great Man (perhaps even more so), the wife finds liberation in his death.  Slam on male artists? Reality of women who got married in the 1950’s and early 60’s? Does this archetype still exist for the modern woman - and do we even have this type of man any more? Don’t you feel like the new novelist is, like, a hipster who eats organic kale, not a man who sleeps with anything that moves?


Look - even if you have no interest in mystery fiction, and are bored to tears by my mystery reviews, I think anyone who likes novels about people and their emotions would really enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.


* This is vague, because I don’t want to give anything away.


Date/Place Completed: May 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Ruth Rendell Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017