Book Notes: Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners

This was Rendell’s last novel, and I didn’t read it when it first came out because the books Rendell wrote in the closing years of her life weren’t good. You can’t keep writing a book a year in your eighties and maintain high quality. Now I finally read Dark Corners, and it’s not all that bad. The quirky, weird characters Rendell is famous for are all there. What’s absent, unfortunately, is the writer’s capacity to tie them together within a functioning plot. As a result, weird things happen that are not explained. A character gets kidnapped but then the kidnapping is suddenly aborted, and readers never get an explanation of who wanted to kidnap that character, for what purpose, and why the kidnapping just ends. Inexplicably, the victim never reports the crime and kind of forgets about it, so there’s no investigation.

To resume, unless you are a hardcore fan, I don’t see the point of reading the novel.

What is curious, though, is that Dark Corners, as well as several other novels by Rendell, is driven by the terrible housing crisis in London. I wonder why so much of the mystery genre reflects such daily realities as housing shortages or unemployment while none of the serious fiction ever does. Is anybody capable of understanding art automatically assumed to be so wealthy as to be completely unaware of economic hardship?

3 thoughts on “Book Notes: Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners

  1. “I wonder why so much of the mystery genre reflects such daily realities as housing shortages or unemployment while none of the serious fiction ever does”

    I can’t find it now, but James Lileks had an interesting comment about that years ago (15 or so IIRC which…. who knows?)

    The basic idea (again IIRC) was that modern ‘serious’ literature can’t present anything without trying to figure it out and assign blame or problem solve – genre literature doesn’t need to do that so it can take modern problems that affect people and use it as background color and… ironically…. that often works better. It allows the reader to experience it without being subjected to sermons….

    I think this is especially true of English langauge (or specifically American) literature which has a hard time being seirous without over-analysing and or judging everything to death… it can’t just let the problem be it has to set it in a grand social narrative….


    1. Plus, high-brow literature is for rich people. I mean, who the heck else wants to read about the boring problems of boring people with bucketloads of money? I assume it takes an advanced degree to enjoy that stuff.

      The rest of us mostly read genre fiction, whose purpose is to entertain.


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