Category Archives: Books Revisted

Books Revisited – A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

There are so many books that have had an impact on me over the years, and I have decided to re-read some of them and see if they have the same effect on me now. I’m curious as to whether or not my views on them have changed as I have grown and matured (allegedly!). The first is A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell.

The Blurb

Four members of the Coverdale family – George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles – died in the space of fifteen minutes on the 14th February, St Valentine’s Day. Eunice Parchman, the housekeeper, shot them down on a Sunday evening while they were watching opera on television. Two weeks later she was arrested for the crime. But the tragedy neither began nor ended there…

My Thoughts

I first read my mum’s copy of this book when I was a teenager and it made a real impression on me. I guess it was the first psychological thriller I ever read and it opened up for me a whole new perspective on the crime novel. I initially read this at a time when I was just becoming interested in human nature and what makes people tick and A Judgement in Stone had a pretty profound effect on me. It has been a book I have never forgotten and I wanted to see if, twenty-odd years later, it would still have the same impact on me.

‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’

This first line blew me away when I first read A Judgement in Stone and it blew me away again. You really can’t beat a killer first line and Rendell pretty much nails it here. This was the first opening line I fell in love with and it made me realise what an impact the initial line of a book can have. It raises so many questions – why would being unable to read and write result in the murder of a whole family being one of them – and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the novel. This was the first time I had ever read a crime novel in which the perpetrator is known from the outset. From the very start we know who committed the crime, how the murders were carried out and when Eunice was arrested. This book is all about the why and it makes for a fascinating read as, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to know the motivations and thought processes behind those who commit murder?

A Judgement in Stone is very much a character study. We get to know Eunice Parchman in a way that those around her don’t as we are privy to her secrets, thoughts and feelings. She is a character that has little to no redeeming features. I love a character I dislike and quite often I do find something in them with which I sympathise, however, I’m not sure I do in Eunice.

Eunice isn’t the only dislikeable character. Her one and only friend Joan Smith is, quite frankly, unhinged and the Coverdale family are snobbish and assured of what they consider to be their elevated status. The only character I had any real positive feelings towards was Melinda Coverdale. This melting pot of difficult, disagreeable characters is one of the things that makes A Judgement in Stone such a great read for me.

While the characters are central to the story, Rendell also uses the decisions we make and the actions we take as a central theme. There is the overriding sense of ‘if only’ throughout the book and it gets you questioning how much control we have over our own destiny. Every action each character takes results in a trajectory that will end in their eventual downfall.

‘In that moment … an invisible thread lassoed each of them, bound them one to another, related them more closely than blood.’

Rendell also fully considers the impact of illiteracy on the psyche and self-esteem of a person along with the views that others have of them. I remember how A Judgement in Stone made me re-think about my ability to read and I found myself considering this ability all over again while reading it for the second time. How we take reading for granted and use it without even thinking about it, how books and the written word open us up to experiences and emotions we have never had and how it can make us rounded individuals by aiding us in considering things from a different perspective. Rendell also made me really consider how those who are unable to read and write navigate a world in which the written word is so dominant;

‘The advantage of being illiterate is that one achieves an excellent visual memory and almost total recall.’

Rendell’s prose is considered and stunning and had me underlining so many sections of text. She has a real way with words as she manages to perfectly craft sentences that set the dark and catastrophic tone and you find yourself re-reading sentences more than once in order to fully appreciate their beauty and meaning. First published in 1977, there are some expressions and words that are quite shocking and offensive to our modern sensibilities but they clearly give a feel for the time and the less politically correct world we live in.

A Judgement in Stone is one hell of a book and I enjoyed it as much, years later, the second time around. It stands the test of time and, in my very humble opinion, is a classic. If you enjoy psychological thrillers and haven’t read this book get it on your bookshelf as soon as possible.

First published on 2 May 1977. This is a review of my own copy which was published on 23 February 2010 by Cornerstone digital.

Favourite Books – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca Daphne du Maurier

The Blurb

Last night I dreamt I went Manderley again…

Working as a lady’s companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place.  Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise.  Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man.  and the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers…

My Thoughts

Du Mauriers classic novel about a young woman who meets Maxim De Winter while working as a ladys companion in Monte Carlo and quickly marries him. Maxim is a wealthy man who lost his wife, Rebecca, in an accident a year ago and is the owner of Mandeley, a beautiful home on the coast, well know for its parties. On returning to Manderley following their marriage the narrator is haunted by Rebecca and the fact that she can not live up to her much loved and adored predecessor.

We never find out what the narrators name is and this adds to the feeling that Rebecca permeates everything at Manderley. We see the insecurities in the narrator, her sense of being unable to ever live up to Rebecca and compete with the dead woman, her worry that Maxim will never love her the way he loved Rebecca all compounded by the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and others remarks about how she is not like Rebecca.

At times I felt incredibly frustrated by the narrator and doubted if Maxim had any breadth of feeling for her, however when the truth unfolds it all makes sense and I feel Du Maurier deliberately portrayed her this way in order for the reader to feel sympathy and root for the couple in circumstances in which you wouldn’t normally.

This book is beautifully written and Manderley almost becomes a living organism in itself and a central character in the novel. This and the use of weather to highlight the psychological states of the characters is very well done and is reminiscent of one of my favourite novels, Wuthering Heights. More than just a love story or a Gothic novel, this book also uses psychology to progress the story and the characters.

It is difficult to write a review that does not spoil the story and give away the twists at the end for those who have not read it. I loved this book, it kept me wanting to read more and the prose is stunning. It is firmly on my list of favourites and one that I return to again and again.

Published 9 February 2012 by Virago.

First published May 1938.

Reviewed 16 January 2016


A Favourite Books Review – Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I have written a few reviews for my all time favourite books when I have re-read them, either for pleasure or if they have come up as part of the reading group I take part in.  I hope you don’t mind me sharing these reviews with you and if you have read them or go on to read them I would love to hear your opinions!



The Blurb

When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall.  A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.

My Review

‘But, some might say, where was Tess’s guardian angel? Where was the providence of her simple faith?’

I have always been a fan of Thomas Hardy and was pleased when Tess of the D’Urbervilles was chosen by the reading group I am part of.  It had been many years since I last read it and I thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting this book.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragic tale about what happens to the heroine when her poor, lower class family discover they are descendants of an old, aristocratic family and she goes to seek assistance from who they believe is a family member.  Her innocence and purity are stripped away and this affects the course of her life.

Written in the 19th century, Hardy caused outrage with this book due to his commentary on the Victorian class system and it’s inequalities, religion and Victorian morals which he saw as hypocritical and unfair.

A desperately sad story, we see Tess struggle against what life has thrown at her.  It is made even more tragic as Tess is a pure and innocent girl with good morals.  Hardy uses the concept of fate throughout leaving the reader to contemplate how much we can control what happens to us and how much is a predestined path which we are put upon following certain events and actions.

Hardy’s prose is stunning and the backdrop of the Wessex countryside is richly described and beautiful.  His portrayal of the main characters have you changing your opinions of them throughout the book, swinging from liking them to despairing of them.  Tess herself evokes empathy through the futility of her situation and the fact she is essentially a victim of the society she is a part of.

Quite rightly a literary classic, Tess of the D’Urbervilles takes you to the dubious ,moral centre and harshness of Victorian England.  I would urge anyone who is interested in history to read this stunning book, however, have tissues ready as you will need them!

Published 30 January 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1891).

Review written 30 December 2015.