Saturday, 3 March 2001

Ruth Rendell: An Unkindness of Ravens (1985)

Edition: Arrow, 1988 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 772

When a neighbour's husband goes missing, Rendell's detective Wexford is reluctant to investigate. But what seems initially likely to be a case of a man going off with another woman turns out to be more complex, as he is revealed to have been a bigamist and as it becomes clear that no member of either family actually liked him very much.

As a murder mystery, An Unkindness of Ravens is neither particularly memorable nor difficult to solve (though it relies on something which is likely to be very obscure in a few years). As a novel, however, it is principal notable for its distinctly unfavourable portrayal of militant feminism. While Rendell herself was reasonably liberal, she was anti-extremist, and there are several of her novels with similar portrayals of, say, New Age travellers and the like. The issues of feminism pervade the whole novel: the most interesting character is the wife of Wexford's sidekick Mike Burden, who is pregnant and is shocked to find that, despite her belief that women are equal to men, she's really unhappy when an amniocentesis declares the unborn child to be a girl rather than a boy. The conflict between her conscious beliefs and something deeply felt - presumably conditioned by her cultural background - could be made more of, but that would overbalance what is meant to be a murder mystery and Rendell wisely leaves it alone, even at the cost of making the character less believable.

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