The Water's Lovely

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Overview

The award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler brings us another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.

Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all. Then something would bring it back or it would return in a dream. The dream always began in the same way.

She and her mother would be climbing the stairs, following Heather’s lead through the bedroom to what was on the other ...

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The Water's Lovely

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Overview

The award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler brings us another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.

Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all. Then something would bring it back or it would return in a dream. The dream always began in the same way.

She and her mother would be climbing the stairs, following Heather’s lead through the bedroom to what was on the other side, not a bathroom in the dream but a chamber floored and walled in marble. In the middle of it was a glassy lake. The white thing in the water floated towards her, its face submerged, and her mother said, absurdly, “Don’t look!”
The dead man was Ismay’s stepfather, Guy. Now, nine years on, she and her sister, Heather, still live in the same house in Clapham. But it has been divided into two self-contained flats. Their mother had lived upstairs with her sister, Pamela. And the bathroom, where Guy had drowned, had disappeared.

Ismay worked in public relations, and Heather in catering. They got on well. They always had. They never discussed the changes to the house, still less what had happened that August day. . .

But even lives as private as these, where secrets hang in the air like dust, intertwine with other worlds and other individuals. And, with painful inevitability, the truth will emerge.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
The main mystery presented by The Water's Lovely is how an author so relentlessly prolific, with dozens of novels to her credit and another set published under the pen name Barbara Vine, can do such buoyant, impeccable work. This stand-alone story, written apart from her Chief Inspector Wexford series, is one of her most gleefully energetic efforts. And its powers of description and characterization place it far beyond the limits of a genre novel. This book is less a conventional crime story than a sly social comedy in which not everybody dies of natural causes.
—The New York Times
Michael Sims
At 77, Rendell is in absolute top form here. The Water's Lovely is as suspenseful as any crime novel she has written, but it also has the generous humanity of her best Inspector Wexford cases…Rendell provides the reader with many pleasures: her intelligence and humanity, her sculpted sentences, her jokeless wit, her refusal to join her colleagues in the torture-porn business to spice up her plots. Oh, yes—those plots. What a sneaky mind the woman has.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Three-time Edgar Award-winner Rendell (13 Steps Down) often creates fragile characters, trembling on the edge of losing a lover, child, job, solvency or sanity. Slashing through their world is a "wild card," an obsessive or a sociopath too focused on personal gain to be concerned with damage to others. The vulnerable people at the heart of this taut and enticing stand-alone are the Sealand family, particularly Heather, who's assumed to have drowned her unsavory stepfather, Guy, in the bath while he was weak with illness. A veritable pack of wild cards-including Marion Melville, who cozies up to the lonely and aged in hopes of inheriting their estates after she's poisoned them, and Marion's Dumpster-diving brother, Fowler-keeps everyone off guard. Rendell enlivens the tale with subplots involving various romances-ardent and desperate-and a killer who lurks in London's parks, as well as with pithy comments about class, technology, generational conflict, food and aesthetics. The plot twists in this electrifying read reach all the way to the last page. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Ismay and Heather live with and care for their mother, who has been mentally unbalanced since finding her children's stepfather drowned in the bathtub. Ismay has always believed that her sister killed him, thinking that Heather was protecting her from his unwanted attentions. Keeping the dark secret seems to have tainted every area of their lives, as Ismay is emotionally unable to confront Heather and find out the truth about their stepfather's death. Indeed, the incident has lent its dark influence to every one of the main characters' relationships and life decisions. Three-time Edgar Award winner Rendell (End in Tears) has written another engaging psychological suspense story in the style of her popular 2002 novel, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me. The characters resolve their problems in some rather improbable ways, making the ending less satisfying than in many of Rendell's previous works, but still, a highly entertaining read. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/15/07.]
—Linda Oliver

Kirkus Reviews
The legacy of a violent death 12 years ago has even creepier resonances for a misfit London family. Guy Rolland's drowning in his bathtub left his womenfolk shattered. His wife Beatrix descended into madness. Her sister Pamela lost her fiance, Guy's friend Michael Fenster. His stepdaughter Ismay Sealand, a 15-year-old who'd encouraged his sexual advances, sank into guilt. And heaven only knows the effect on Ismay's younger sister Heather, who everyone assumed without asking had killed Guy. Now love has found both Ismay, attached to rising barrister Andrew Campbell-Sedge, and Heather, courted by hospice nurse Edmund Litton. The results of these amours are even more devastating than the original trauma. Ismay's unwisely taped reminiscences of her stepfather's death entangle the sisters with a crew ranging from a retired police inspector to an ingratiatingly murderous companion to the West End Werewolf. The look back at long-buried secrets recalls Rendell's Barbara Vine novels (The Minotaur, 2006, etc.), but here the retrospect is balanced by a deliciously inexorable sense of forward momentum. With so many malign schemers on call and so many frail, foolish victims for them to prey on, the sense of impending calamity is palpable. The only question is how and whom it will strike. Despite some unlikely coincidences and a rushed and muted ending, one of the most deeply pleasurable thrillers from the genre's leading practitioner.
From the Publisher
"She is one of the marvels of crime fiction. Forty years after her first book, Ruth Rendell is still producing work that puts her head and shoulders above most other writers."
Sunday Telegraph

"Ruth Rendell is back to her creepy best. She has always been wonderful at exploring the dark corners of the human mind, and the way private fantasies can clash and explode into terrifying violence."
Daily Mail

"No contemporary writer of suspense stories tries to vary the form’s boundaries more than Ruth Rendell."
Guardian

"Rendell’s eerie capacity to comprehend disturbed criminal minds continues to astonish."
The Times

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780091797287
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 10/4/2006

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell is the recipient of several awards, including three Edgars and four Gold Daggers from the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. Simisola, Blood Lines, Keys to the Street, and The Brimstone Wedding (written as Barbara Vine) are available from Brilliance Audio. She lives in England.

Biography

From the start of her illustrious career, Ruth Rendell's novels have blurred the distinction between literature and commercial fiction. Although Rendell is classified as a writer of mysteries and crime thrillers, her elegant prose and superb literary skills elevate her far above the conventions of those genres.

Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in London in 1930, she attended the Loughton County High School for Girls in Essex, then went to work as a features writer for the Essex newspapers. In 1950, she married her boss at the newspaper, journalist Donald Rendell. (They divorced in 1975, remarried two years later, and remained together until his death in 1999.) For the next decade, she juggled marriage, motherhood, and part-time writing. She produced at least two unpublished novels before hitting pay dirt in 1964 with From Doon with Death, the first mystery to feature Chief Inspector Reginald 'Reg' Wexford of the Kingsmarkham Police Force. An immediate bestseller, the book launched Rendell's career and marked the beginning of one of the most successful and enduring series in detective fiction.

In 1965, Rendell published her second novel, a deft crime thriller (with no police presence) entitled To Fear a Painted Devil. For 20 years, she was content to alternate installments in the Wexford series with a steady stream of bestselling standalones that explored darker themes like envy, sexual obsession, and the tragic repercussions of miscommunication. Then, in 1986, she began a third strand of fiction under the name Barbara Vine. The very first of these books, A Dark-Adapted Eye, earned a prestigious Edgar Award.

From the get-go, the pseudonymous Vine novels had a separate DNA, although Rendell has always had difficulty pinpointing the distinction. In an interview with NPR, she tried to explain: "I don't think the Barbara Vines are mysteries in any sense. I must say that. They are different, and that is partly how I decide. The idea would come to me and I would know at once whether it was to be a Barbara Vine or a Ruth Rendell ... The Barbara Vine is much more slowly paced. It is a much more in-depth, searching sort of book; it doesn't necessarily have a murder in it. It's almost always set partly in the past, sometimes quite a long way in the past. And I think all these things come together and make them very different from the Ruth Rendells."

Under both names, Rendell has garnered numerous awards, including three American Edgars and multiple Gold and Silver Daggers from England's distinguished Crime Writers' Association. In 1996, she was made a Commander of the British Empire; and in 1997, a Life Peerage was conferred on her as Baroness Rendell of Babergh. Although, in her own words, she was "slightly stunned" by the peerage, she takes her responsibilities quite seriously, writing in the mornings and attending the House of Lords several afternoons a week.

Praise for Rendell is lavish and seemingly unqualified. John Mortimer once proclaimed that she would surely have won the Booker if she had not been pigeonholed as a "crime writer." Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has identified Rendell as one of her favorite authors. And Joyce Carol Oates has called her "one of the finest practitioners of the craft in the English-speaking world."

Good To Know

While working as a journalist, Rendell once reported on a local club's annual dinner without actually attending. Her story omitted the crucial fact that the after-dinner speaker had dropped dead at the podium in the middle of his speech! She resigned before being fired.

The pseudonym Barbara Vine derives from the combination of Rendell's middle name and her great-grandmother's maiden name.

"I wouldn't keep my age a secret even if I had the chance," Rendell has said. "But I don't have the chance. Regularly, on February 17, the newspapers tell their readers my age."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Barbara Vine
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 17, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all. Then something would bring it back or it would return in a dream. The dream began in the same way. She and her mother would be climbing the stairs, following Heather’s lead through the bedroom to what was on the other side, not a bathroom in the dream but a chamber floored and walled in marble. In the middle of it was a glassy lake. The white thing in the water floated towards her, its face submerged, and her mother said, absurdly, ‘Don’t look!’ Because the dead thing was a man and was naked and she was a girl of fifteen. But she had looked and in the dreams she looked again, but at Guy’s drowned face. She had looked at the dead face and though she would forget from time to time what she had seen, it always came back, the fear still there in the dead eyes, the nostrils dilated to inhale water, not air.

Heather showed no fear, no emotion of any kind. She stood with her arms hanging by her side. Her dress was wet, clinging to her breasts. No one spoke then, neither in the reality nor in the dreams, neither of them said a word until their mother fell on her knees and began crying and laughing and babbling nonsense.

When she came home the house was a different place. She had known, of course, that it would be two self-contained flats, the upper one for her mother and Pamela, the lower one for her and Heather, two pairs of sisters, two generations represented. In her last term at university, four hundred miles away in Scotland, what she hadn’t understood was that part of the house would disappear.

It was Pamela’s idea, though Pamela didn’t know why. She knew no more of what had happened than the rest of the world knew. In innocence and well-meaning, she had planned and carried out these drastic changes. She showed Ismay the ground-floor flat and then she took her upstairs.

‘I’m not sure how much Beatrix understands,’ she said, opening the door to what had been the principal bedroom, the room they had walked through to find the drowned man. ‘I can’t tell how much she remembers. God knows if she even realises it’s the same room.’

I can hardly realise, thought Ismay. The shock of it silenced her. She looked around her almost fearfully. It was one room now. The door to the bathroom had been — where? The french windows to the balcony were gone, replaced by a single glass door. The whole place looked larger, nearer to the dream room, yet less spacious.

‘It’s better this way, isn’t it, Issy?’

‘Oh, yes, yes. It’s just that it was a shock.’ Perhaps it would have been better to sell the house and move. But how else would she and Heather afford a flat to share? ‘Has Heather seen it?’

‘She loves all the changes. I don’t know when I’ve seen her so enthusiastic about anything.’ Pamela showed her the two bedrooms that had once been hers and Heather’s, the new kitchen, the new bathroom. At the top of the stairs she paused, holding on to the newel post and turning her eyes on Ismay almost pleadingly. ‘It’s nine years ago, Issy, or is it ten?’

‘Nine. Coming up to nine.’

‘I thought changing things like this would help you finally to put it behind you. We couldn’t go on keeping that room shut up. How long is it since anyone went in there? All those nine years, I suppose.’

‘I don’t think about it much any more,’ she lied.

‘Sometimes I think Heather’s forgotten it.’

‘Perhaps I can forget it now,’ said Ismay and she went downstairs to find her mother who was in the garden with Heather.

Forgetting isn’t an act of will. She hadn’t forgotten but that conversation with Pamela, that tour of her old home made new, was a watershed for her. Though she dreamed of drowned Guy that night, gradually her mindset changed and she felt the load she carried ease. She stopped asking herself what had happened on that hot August afternoon. Where had Heather been? What exactly had Heather done — if anything? Was it possible anyone else had been in the house? Probing, wondering, speculating had been with her for nine years and at last she asked herself why. Suppose she found out, what could she do with the truth she had discovered? She wasn’t going to share with Heather, live with Heather, to protect her from anything, still less ‘save’ her. It was just convenient. They were sisters and close. She loved Heather and Heather certainly loved her.

She and Heather downstairs, her mother and Pamela on the top floor. The first time Ismay saw her mother in the new living room, in the corner she had made for herself with her radio, her footstool, the handbag she carried everywhere, she watched her to see if her vague dazed glance wandered to the end of the room that was most radically changed. It never did. It really was as if Beatrix failed to understand this was the same room. Heather went up there with her when Pamela invited the two of them for drinks and it was as Pamela said. She behaved as if she had forgotten, even going up to the new glass door and opening it to check if it was raining. She closed it and came back, pausing to look at a picture Pamela had newly hung on the wall where the towel rail used to be and Beatrix’s bowl of coloured soaps had stood. Ironically, the only thing to remind you it had once been a bathroom was that picture, a Bonnard print of a nude drying herself after a bath.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

In Ismay’s dreams about the day her stepfather was murdered, she opens the door of the upstairs bathroom and sees his naked body floating in the tub, his dead eyes full of fear. She hears her mother screaming at her not to look, but it’s too late. And now, awake or asleep, Ismay is haunted by what she saw.

The Water’s Lovely explores the nature of obsession and the havoc its relentless pressure can wreak. This reader’s guide is intended as a starting point for discussion about this masterful novel of psychological suspense.|

1. What was your impression of Ismay? Of Heather? Did you find them likable? How would you describe each girl?

2. Discuss the title of this book in light of Guy’s demise and Heather’s watery death. What might the symbolic meaning of water be here? Consider Christian baptism and the role of water in the forgiveness of sins. What sins are Heather, Ismay, and their mother guilty of? How are they punished?

3. Ten years after Guy’s death, Beatrix is nearly catatonic, but when she does speak she quotes fire-and-brimstone passages from the Bible. Why? Do you think Beatrix’s condition was brought on by Guy’s death? How is her silence both a haven and a prison?

4. Did you think that Ismay might be wrong about–or even responsible for–Guy’s death? What does she think was Heather’s reason for killing Guy? Why doesn’t she ever ask Heather for the truth?

5. Why doesn’t Heather like Ismay’s boyfriend, Andrew? Why do you think Andrew dislikes Heather?

6. Before he meets Heather, Edmund’s female influence is from his mother, Irene. How would you describe Irene? What are the sources of her many “illnesses”? Why does she want Edmund to become involved with her friend Marion? What kind of person is Marion? Why might Irene prefer Marion over Heather as a match for Edmund?

7. Although neither of them expects it, Edmund and Heather quickly fall in love. Ismay is also caught off guard. Do you think Ismay should have told Edmund of her suspicions regarding Heather’s involvement in Guy’s death? Put in a similar situation, would you tell your secret or keep what you suspect to yourself?

8. As teenagers, both Ismay and Heather are deeply affected by Guy’s presence in their lives–and by his death. How does his influence manifest itself in them as adults? Between Ismay, Heather, and Beatrix, which woman is least affected by the murder? Why?

9. Does remodeling the house to erase any trace of the room where Guy died help the family to move on? What do these physical changes represent on a symbolic level?

10. Do Ismay’s feelings for Guy excuse his behavior toward her? Do you think Heather was justified in killing Guy?

11. Do you think Ismay is jealous of Heather? Why?

12. Why is Andrew so opposed to sharing the flat with Heather and Edmund? What kind of man is he? What kind of boyfriend? Do you think he loves Ismay?

13. Instead of telling Edmund what happened to her stepfather, Ismay records her story using an old tape recorder. She stores the tape in the packaging for an old cassette no one listens to anymore. What do you think of this plan? Why would she keep the tape instead of destroying it?

14. After the murder, Ismay and Beatrix re-create what they believe happened between Heather and Guy. Why? How does this experiment affect them? Do you think Beatrix is a good mother?

15. Does Beatrix do the right thing by protecting Heather from the police?

16. On page 80, we learn that Beatrix knew about Guy’s flirtation with Ismay. Do you think she also knew about his behavior towards Heather? Why was Beatrix especially vulnerable to Guy? How would you describe Pamela, Ismay and Heather’s aunt? How does low self-esteem affect both Beatrix and Pamela? Do you think Heather has low self-esteem? What about Ismay?

17. How are Marion and her brother, Fowler, alike? How are they different? Which of the two is more honest?

18. Why doesn’t Edmund tell Ismay that he has seen Andrew out with another woman? Do you think he should have? Do you think Ismay’s feelings for Andrew would have been affected by this knowledge?

19. How does the concept of “six degrees of separation” factor into the events of The Water’s Lovely? What roles do fate and chance play?

20. Why does Heather mention Tess of the D’Urbervilles to Edmund? Did the mention of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel provide a clue for you about her motivations for Guy’s murder? Why is Heather reluctant to confess to Edmund? Do you think she should have told him before they got married? In her place, would you have told him at all? Why or why not? How are Heather and Edmund affected by her confession?

21. Andrew leaves Ismay for a socialite named Eva Simber. Why does Heather contact her? What does this reveal about Heather? What is Ismay’s reaction when Eva is murdered later in the novel? Does her reaction reveal a flaw in Ismay’s character or is it a natural–though callous–response? Why do you think Andrew eventually comes back to Ismay?

22. The events of the novel culminate with Marion’s blackmailing Ismay. Does she pay off Marion to protect Heather or herself? What does Ismay have to lose? How does Ismay put an end to it?

23. Did you find the ending of The Water’s Lovely satisfying?

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012

    Excellent

    A great read and beautifully written. Few writers of this genre can top Rendell.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

    My first Rendell read.

    I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this book. I'm trying to branch out of my usual King/Koontz genre and this book was a good read. The writing style/grammar were a problem for me at times, but perhaps that is the way the author intended the book to read. I definitely recommend it. I have not ventured into Rendell's series novels but may try one soon.

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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    No Inspector Wexford but still a good mystery.

    A suspenseful story with a few nice twists. The characters are very well drawn and the writing , as always is beautiful. A very good read .

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    average

    This was interesting enough to finish reading but I wouldn't really recommend it. I've read other books by Ruth Rendell that were better. I didn't think it had a satisfying ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2008

    More fun than suspenseful--an enjoyable read

    I've never read anything by this author, but was intrigued by the book jacket and story's description. I had no idea, however, that the novel would include so much humor! To me, the secondary story of Marion and her incessant plotting to be included in various older people's wills, which kept me reading on and waiting for her to fall flat on her face, was as intriguing as the dilemma for Ismay and Heather. The quick cuts from one scene to another call to mind Maeve Binchey's books, and kept the story moving. I was, however, more than a little let down by the slapped on, unhappy ending. Despite that, I will look for other books by this author. This was good, just not a gem.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2008

    Great until the last few pages

    Ruth Rendell's characterizations are second to none. This is no exception, but as other reviewers pointed out, the coincidences strain all credulity, and the end is just a let-down. Read it for the wit and the insights into the human condition, not for the plot's disappointing conclusion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2007

    Happy to Say I Loved It

    I agree with the critics' praise of this. It's a typical Ruth Rendell intelligent, mature superbly written psychological suspense novel. If you are a fan of RR, don't miss it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2007

    let down

    The storyline jumps from present to past in a matter of one sentence~it was impossible to keep up with real time vs the past. Also having the character Marion (who was as nuts as they come) trying to follow her thougts/adventures along with Ismays and Heathers storyline was impossible~I couldnt even finish the book to know what really happened. Dry sense of humor mixed in with a mystery/family drama just doesnt meld together well in this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2011

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