Early in the Spring Reading Thing 2008, I read Anna’s Book by Barbara Vine, who actually is Ruth Rendell. (Can anyone tell me why I think the Vine books are so much better than the Rendell books? I know they’re written by the same authors, but the Vines are so much more descriptive, clever and suspenseful in my opinion. Weird, I know.)
This beautifully crafted, fine distinction in literary writing is a novel of mystery and suspense that seamlessly moves between the past and the present, covering 80 years over the lives of three women.
The past is shared through the diaries of a Danish immigrant named Anna, who lived in England with, Rasmus, her husband, and their two young sons at the turn of the twentieth century. Living in East London in the early 1900, her loveless marriage and loneliness drove Anna to keep a journal of her innermost thoughts and experiences. Though her husband traveled often, they added two more children to her family – daughters, Swanny (her favorite) and Maria (the youngest).
The present is shown through the eyes of Swanny, who becomes the editor of Anna’s journals-turned- best-selling novels, and through the life of Anna’s granddaughter, Ann, daughter of Maria. Though the journals are well-loved by many, they would also tantalizingly hint at a secret that would, ultimately, impact on her daughter, Swanny, later in life.
As with Grasshopper (one of my favorite books ever), Vine creates witty and true-to-life characters, surprising and dynamic storylines and powerfully thorough and surprising endings. In typical Vine fashion, she gets the smallest of details correct, whether writing about the lives of a 1900′s maids, a behavior of 1950’s gentleman or the concerns of a 1988 independent woman. Discontent to form one mystery in the novel, Vine constructs several intricate puzzles within each other. She truly is a brilliant, beguiling author who deserves to be read. Anna’s Book is so excellent, it almost topped Grasshopper… almost.