cover image The Child’s Child

The Child’s Child

Barbara Vine. Scribner, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9489-5

Parallel plots pivot around pregnant, unmarried women living with their gay brothers in this compelling novel from Vine (the pen name of Ruth Rendell). Grace and Andrew Eaton share a house in contemporary London, while Maud and John Goodwin are tucked away in a village in western England during the period between the world wars. Each woman tussles with the mores of her era and with her brother’s difficult boyfriend: Grace scraps with persnickety novelist James Derain, and Maud with lout Bertie Webber. Vine dissects the roots of homophobia in gay and straight alike, by period, virulence, and class. Homophobia—in a moment of pique—is what causes the novel’s most crucial murder. The Child’s Child is the title of a manuscript Grace reads, a roman à clef relating Maud’s life that forms the central narrative. The quintessential narcissist, Maud ruminates about insults the way biblical scholars dwell on ancient texts. Vine excels at depicting such characters and succeeds in making them believable—and bearable. Though not as vivid as Vine’s previous book, The Birthday Present (2008), this elegant offering clicks along like a well-tuned glockenspiel. (Dec.)