All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Birthday Present – Barbara Vine

on June 12, 2010

I had read a pretty good review on this book and bought it on the strength of that. Basically the book is about a Tory MP, Ivan Tesham – rich, well to do, ambitious, single. He meets a housewife, Hebe Furnell at something or other and they embark upon an affair as both share the same sexual…tastes. For her birthday, Ivan arranges her to be snatched from a sidewalk, blindfolded, tied up and delivered to him in a secret location. Exciting! But it all goes oh so terribly wrong.

The book isn’t told from Ivan’s point of view, nor from Hebe’s. Instead it alternates (with no real clear way of distinguishing who is narrating what bit until you read the first paragraph or two and realise from what they’re talking about) and there is no pattern to the alternations either. Sometimes it switches with each chapter. Sometimes it doesn’t. The narration is shared by Ivan’s brother-in-law Rob (married to Ivan’s sister Iris) and Hebe’s “friend” Jane Atherton, known as ‘the alibi lady’ as it is always Jane that Hebe tells her husband she’s out with whenever she’s meeting up with Ivan somewhere.

The book isn’t so much about the affair, or the actual present itself. It’s about what that brings about. The catastrophic consequences for so many people, the noose hanging around someones neck just waiting for the chair to be kicked out under them. The mystery and suspense is supposed to be wrapped up in not if the secret will come out but when and how. This didn’t really work for me. For a start, I found Ivan so utterly unlikable, that I couldn’t wait to have the secret come tumbling out. Spoiled, self-absorbed, arrogant, upper class, cold and selfish English aristocrat, he annoyed me beyond belief. His callous attitude and the way that people around him just accepted it kind of infuriated me. Do English stereotypes like that still exist? The Landowner with the stiff upper lip who claps someone awkwardly on the shoulder during a tragedy and says “Right o, buck up old chap. Can’t have this wallowing. Must crack on”. I really don’t know. But Ivan certainly fell into that, with a side of drinking whisky and referring to the lodge on his family land as “the Dower house.” I just wanted to smack him.

The character of Jane Atherton was another stereotype. Uptight, unattractive, virgin Librarian who is friends with the much more beautiful Hebe for…what? Jane admits that she never ever really even liked Hebe. They barely saw each other, with Hebe using her only as an alibi. Jane descends into some form of psychosis that is just, quite frankly, bizarre.

There’s also a lot of description of English parliamentary process and intricacies of government. Pages are devoted to Ivan’s move up the ladder and I don’t know anyone that actually understands the way the English government system actually works. I know I certainly don’t and the pages and pages and blah blah blah politics didn’t actually help that in any way. It just made me skim and flick pages until the words MP and Secretary For stopped appearing.

After all I’ve read about the great works of Barbara Vine (which is actually a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell) I was actually pretty disappointed in this one. No real mystery, no real suspense – the pacing was terribly slow, which is a big detraction in a novel of this genre.


(Book #30 of my 50 Book Challenge)

One response to “The Birthday Present – Barbara Vine

  1. […] The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine. I…… don’t even remember this book. But apparently Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell. […]

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