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The Water's Lovely

The Water's Lovely

3.5 13
by Ruth Rendell, Sian Thomas (Read by)

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The man who had died was Ismay's stepfather, Guy. 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 lives upstairs with her sister, Pamela. And the bathroom, where Guy drowned, has disappeared. Ismay works in public relations, and Heather in catering.

They get


The man who had died was Ismay's stepfather, Guy. 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 lives upstairs with her sister, Pamela. And the bathroom, where Guy drowned, has disappeared. Ismay works in public relations, and Heather in catering.

They get on well. They always have. They never discuss the changes to the house, still less what 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 people. And, with painful inevitability, the truth will emerge.

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."

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

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Brilliance Audio
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5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)

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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.

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 17, 1930
Place of Birth:
London, England
Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex

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Water's Lovely 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read and beautifully written. Few writers of this genre can top Rendell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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obxtea More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
LevittownLady More than 1 year ago
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 .