The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine: B+

brimstoneFrom the back cover:
“It’s crazy thinking I can tell her,” says Genevieve Warner, thirty-two years old, thirteen years into a loveless marriage, and recently swept into her first passionate love affair. “She’s so old. She’ll have forgotten what sex is.”

But Stella Newland, the gracious, dignified, dying woman that Genevieve cares for in an English nursing home, has not forgotten. She knows all about love: its promises, its betrayals, its sometimes deadly consequences. She learned her lessons thirty years ago in a country house she owned, and owns still. When Genevieve confides in Stella, the old woman reciprocates by giving Genevieve the key to the now forlorn house, and by telling this young woman who will be her last friend, in the few minutes a day her failing strength allows, the story of her own erotic entanglement in adultery and worse, much worse.

Genevieve Warner, employed as a “carer” at a nursing home, feels a special affection for her charge, Stella, an elegant elderly woman who, unlike the other residents, seems firmly grounded in the present. As Stella’s condition worsens, however, she begins to confide in Genevieve about her adulterous affair of 20+ years ago and the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of film star, Gilda Brent. Parts of the tale parallel what Genevieve herself is going through as she is engaged in an affair of her own.

The Brimstone Wedding possesses a puzzling duality of attributes, in that it’s rather predictable at times yet still unforgettable. Most of the revelations in Stella’s story are easy to see coming, and one is often left merely waiting for the details to be revealed to Genevieve. Even so, the tale from the past is intriguing and the characters in the present so vivid that it’s hard to fault the story too much for going where one expects it to go. In fact, it’s done in such a way that I wonder whether Vine even intended for these revelations to be big twists at all.

The tone is different from other works by Vine (a.k.a. Ruth Rendell) that I’ve read recently. Mostly this is due to Genevieve, who has spent her life in rural Norfolk and has been raised to believe in all sorts of folksy superstitions, giving her a rather unique outlook. She’s also not weak and annoying like the heroine of The Keys to the Street, for which I am grateful. All in all, I enjoyed the book, and will certainly be reading more by this author in future.

The Brimstone Wedding was another recommendation from Margaret.

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