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Barbara Vine - The Chimney-Sweeper's Boy
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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
Posts: 2104


Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 7:42 am    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Hmmm, I think a lot of writers take liberties with tenses, usually in the interests of euphony. The pluperfect is notorious for jamming up sentences with "hads" and "had hads". It's usually a good idea to avoid the pluperfect altogether, if at all possible. For a start, it's often a sign of "telling" rather than "showing". Personally I'd rather read a sentence that sounds nice and isn't quite grammatical than one that's grammatically correct but sounds clumsy. I would agree however that the sentence cited is neither.



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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
Posts: 3864


Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2010 11:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I certainly take your point that the use of the pluperfect can make the sentence sound clumsy, and can also create a distance between the reader and the narration - giving an impression of "telling" rather than "showing". It is generally used to depict something that happened before the main action of the story - i.e. if the main action of the story is narrated in the past tense, then what had happened earlier should really be narrated in the pluperfect; but given how clumsy the pluperfect tense so often sounds, it is entirely understandable for the author to slip unobtrusively back into the past tense. That's fair enough.

But in this particular case, the shift is very obtrusive, and the result is by no means euphonious. Here is the passage again:

Quote:
'There had been a violent quarrel during which the other man fled and which culminated in Givner first striking Ryan with a table lamp, then using an eighteen-inch-high marble statuette of a male nude to beat him to death. Much was made in the report of this bronze figurine of Apollo.'  


That first sentence sounds clumsy. If the point is to avoid the pluperfect, why start the sentence in that tense? Why not start with "There was a violent quarrel..."?

In addition, putting in that involved expository bit about "an eighteen-inch-high marble statuette of a male nude" in the middle of a sentence that describes action seems to take it perilously close to Dan Brown territory:

"The fifty-seven year old mustachioed academic struck the tall, grey-haired operational research analyst with an eighteen-inch-high marble statuette of a male nude ..."

OK, it's not quite that bad, but it's getting there. Off the top of my head, this passage could have been written as follows:

"The quarrel had been violent. After the other man left, Givner struck Ryan, first with the table lamp, and then with a heavy statuette. It was with this statuette  that he beat him to death. Much was made afterwards of the fact that the statuette had been of a male nude."

There is a shift from the past perfect to the past tense here as well, but because it doesn't occur in the middle of a sentence, it isn't quite so obtrusive. (Though even here, I'd have preferred a simple past tense throughout.)


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Klara Z



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 173


Location: London

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read "The Chimney Sweeper's Boy" several years ago, and it seemed to me at the time that Ruth Rendell a.k.a Barbara Vine was beginning to lose her touch. I'd loved several of her earlier 'Barbara Vine' novels (esp. King Solomon's Carpet), but this one, for me, was let down by the plotting, by revelations that didn't convince etc. It was highly readable, but the plot seemed very clunky at times---the Turkish bath business in particular seemed absurd to me.  And was it really likely that Gerald's daughters could humiliate so many guests with the scissors trick (for me, as an ex-drama teacher, that game is an old chestnut) and only 'unhygienic Jason'--would get it?


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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
Posts: 727



PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 9:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a big fan of Ruth Rendell, both in her books under that name, and particularly her Barbara Vine novels. However, I don't particularly feel inclined to spring to her defence in this instance: she can do much bettter than this. I had read 'Chimney Sweeper's Boy' before, on holiday about ten years ago. I passed it on to my sister-in-law to read, and she immediately recognized the scissor game as one that had been played in her family, although without the intent to humilate and isolate the unwitting participant.

At her best, Barbara Vine can write novels that leave you pondering the motives of her characters long after you have finished reading. I would especially recommend 'A Dark Adapted Eye', 'A Fatal Inversion' or 'The Brimstone Wedding'. The demarcation line between Barabara Vine and Ruth Rendell can be a bit blurred at times: I am unsure what criteria she uses in deciding which name to publish a particular novel under.

Some comment was made about the quality of her prose. I would usually characterize this as 'unobtrusive', which is to say I am usually neither carried away by its beauty nor irritated by its clumsiness. What she can do superbly well is built up a sense of atmosphere, often revolving around a group of people brought together by chance in a large house. There is always a death involved, although there is sometimes doubt as to whether an actual murder has taken place. The long-term effects of these deaths on the characters involved is also a common theme and allows Rendell/Vine to explore characters sometimes in great depth

On a first reading, I enjoyed 'The Chimney Sweepers Boy' as a good holiday read. Re-reading it, I was aware of its weaknesses. To those who have read no other books by Barbara Vine, or even Ruth Rendell, I would definitely say 'Don't give up yet'. She may not prove to be to your taste, but I don't think this is the best introduction.


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
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Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Klara and Chris - good to have further input here.  It is a shame Miranda is not here, as it was her choice, and I would like to have known why in particular she chose this one.  I have seen a few adapted for TV and loved them, so will definitely try again with her at some point - this one seemed such a potboiler that I felt she must have written much better things for her reputation to be as high as it is.


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Klara Z



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 173


Location: London

PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 10:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I must concur re. 'The Brimstone Wedding'---I found this a chilling and very compelling book, without any of the flaws that I found in 'The Chimney Sweeper's Boy', or in 'The Blood Doctor'---another Vine book that I found page-turning, but ultimately disappointing, with one or two clunky plot devices and a denouement that failed to thrill.

At her best 'Barbara Vine' is superb, and I'm amazed by how prolific she is, both as B. Vine and Ruth Rendell, but her last  novel, under the 'Vine' soubriquet was very poor (The Birthday Present). I had to return it to the library half-finished. I'm very much afraid that, as an ageing writer, she's very much past her best, and it would be better to re-read some of her earlier books rather than expect anything new from her now.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

chris-l wrote:

At her best, Barbara Vine can write novels that leave you pondering the motives of her characters long after you have finished reading. I would especially recommend 'A Dark Adapted Eye', 'A Fatal Inversion' or 'The Brimstone Wedding'. The demarcation line between Barabara Vine and Ruth Rendell can be a bit blurred at times: I am unsure what criteria she uses in deciding which name to publish a particular novel under.

Some comment was made about the quality of her prose. I would usually characterize this as 'unobtrusive', which is to say I am usually neither carried away by its beauty nor irritated by its clumsiness. What she can do superbly well is built up a sense of atmosphere, often revolving around a group of people brought together by chance in a large house. There is always a death involved, although there is sometimes doubt as to whether an actual murder has taken place. The long-term effects of these deaths on the characters involved is also a common theme and allows Rendell/Vine to explore characters sometimes in great depth



I endorse Chris's comments, and Klara's, completely. It's a while since I read TCB but it was underwhelming, as have been several of her later Vine books. The ones Chris lists above (though I haven't read The Brimstone Wedding, will look out for it)  are definitely far above this in quality and hauntingness. Maybe the quote about "the most frightening novel" actually applies to one of them.

Chris's desription of her writing style at its best is just right, too.
Her Ruth Rendell books can be pretty pedestrian, the few I've tried.


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to go to the library today or tomorrow, so will look out for one of those mentioned.

It was very odd, that quote about 'most frightening book' - perhaps they did filtch it from a review of a different book, I am sure that happens on book covers - I couldn't find anything remotely frightening in TCB, other than the attitudes to homosexuality in a bygone age, but I don't think that is what was being referred to!



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