Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion (1987)

It’s a personal challenge to try and review Barbara Vine’s Fatal Inversion in just about 5 sentences, although I could also write it in 4 words: I warmly recommend it! But here you go, me trying to catch up with my TBR pile and my “read but not yet reviewed” pile. Keeping it short will probably help keeping the suspense intact.

– When the new owners of Wyvis Hall discover the remains of a woman and a child buried in the woods, the memory of the events leading to the tragedy come back to haunt the few people who lived there ten years before, in 1976, for a summer-long free-love commune.

– It’s a slow book narrated by the 3 males protagonists, and you need time to come to terms with those unlikable characters, but the suspense never fails to work: who is this woman and whose child is it?

– Barbara Vine (a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell) explores how guilt (or simply the moral burden of a crime) can change a person’s life over the years– how these young people who participated, to some degree, to a murder at a still “innocent” age seemingly got away with it, but now live in fear, escape reality through alcohol or have seen their ambitions dramatically change after this defining moment.

– A Fatal Inversion has a terrific narrative construction when it comes to weaving past and present together, and I’ll be sure to go back to this book to see in further details how Barbara Vine can “open a window” into the past of a character mid-sentence, just in a few words.

– This story sticks in my mind ever since I finished it, because it’s a lot more disturbing than the comforting, classic mysteries where, after the tension and morbid fascination for the transgression itself, comes the relief of seeing the culprit caught and punished by society- here the transgression seems to have gone unpunished, except for subtle fallouts, and those who are punished and lose their lives ironically are all “good people”.


6 thoughts on “Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion (1987)

  1. I am hopeless: I know I have read this book. Ecalpemos and Wyvis Hall both ring a bell. And then, when the bell stops ringing: total silence. Not a single trace of what this was about. Now I know that unless I read a book twice or more, it will leave no memories – it’s only about enjoying the moment.

  2. I’ve read nearly all Barbara Vine’s books and nearly all of them are excellent (or very close). This is one of my favorites, along with A Dark Adapted Eye and Anna’s Book (called Asta’s Book in the UK). She’s one of the best crime writers I’ve come across.

  3. Pingback: Barbara Vine, Asta’s Book (1993; US title: Anna’s Book) « Smithereens

  4. Pingback: Barbara Vine, House of Stairs (1988) « Smithereens

  5. Pingback: Barbara Vine, Grasshopper (2000) « Smithereens

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