Grasshopper by Barbara Vine
If you know that under the nom de plume of Barbara Vine is hidden Ruth Rendell, the bestselling crime novelist, you will think immediately: psychological thriller. Quite correct but it is not a typical mystery. This book is also a first person narration about how much you must change in your life in order to restore your inner peace after a very traumatic event.The horror here isn’t evil. It’s disastrous consequences committed by people with the best intentions.
The narrator and the main character is, very characteristically for this author, a young woman. Clodagh Brown was involved in a serious accident while still attenting a secondary school. She and her boyfriend, Daniel, used to climb electricity pylons and one time they became too cocky and their luck ran out – Daniel died from electric shock. He was younger than Clodagh and, as the girl managed to survive, plenty of people started to blame her for the boy’s death, her parents among them. An older girlfriend should have known better than climbing a transmission tower, dragging poor, innocent boy behind, right?
What do parents normally do when the child doesn’t meet their expectations? Either they try to help him/her or they try to send him/her away and banish from their life. Clodagh’s parents tried both methods and finally their daughter was sent away to London, officially to go to GUP but it was evident that mom and dad started to perceive her case as hopeless and wanted to get her out of sight. Officially her situation was a bed of roses. She was properly taken care of as she went to live with Max and Selina, her relatives, who offered a nice basement flat under their own without any charge. It was like another punishment for claustrophobic Clodagh, though. Her college course didn’t seem interesting enough to keep her occupied and the route to the University, with several subterranean passages or the necessity of taking the Tube, was like a hellish nightmare. One day, in the middle of her claustrophobic crisis she met a boy called Silver. He and Clodagh fell in love, and both became intrepid midnight roof climbers.
Sliver, whose parents were very rich, happened to be Max and Selina’s neighbour – he had a loft of his own on the same street. His flat became a favourite haunt for a bunch of very miscellaneous misfits who had been climbing the roofs of London’s terraced houses with him for some time. The group became more and more colourful and conflicted, consisting of Wim, a secretive and very handsome Dutch of mixed racial origin, Liv, a mentally unstable Swedish nanny on the run from her host family, Johnny, an amoral criminal and a bully who used to be Liv’s boyfriend, and some other girls and boys, taking advantage of Silver’s incredible generosity and naïvety. Soon climbing roofs and hanging out with Silver would become not only Clodagh’ favourite pastime but also the only thing she truly loved doing in London. The girl didn’t realize that once again she was on the verge of being involved in a crime story and once again it wasn’t her fault but she had to face the consequences.
One evening Clodagh and Silver discover a hidden location of a pair of fugitives. They are thrilled but the pair, hiding in an empty flat with the child they were accused of kidnapping, is less than happy – harassed by tabloids they are at the end of their tether. Clodagh and Silver decide to help them but doing so they must break the law and rely on Johnny, the only person with criminal experience and contacts. It gives the plot a huge and unexpected twist and it leads to truly dramatic ending, definitely not happy for some of the characters mentioned above.
I love this multi-layered style of narration – at the beginning this book doesn’t really have one main story line, but multiple threads, without a central conclusion. After a while they connect with each other and all of them lead to the grand finale of a kind. I must admit every detail, every character in this book has been very well though-out and the whole structure resembles to a work of architecture or a piece of classical music, with no unnecessary part or adornment. The story is gripping, full of surprises and twists. You will never get bored till the very end.The fact that it wasn’t a classic “whodunnit” didn’t put me off at all.
At some point, somewhere in the middle of the book, I thought there were too many details and characters brought into focus but after a moment it all worked just fine. Really fine.
One of my favourite books to read during the summer – a novel I feel like returning to.