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The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine

The House of Stairs (1988)

by Barbara Vine

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5181519,555 (3.72)31
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This book was excellently written and deserves a high rating, but if I'm rating it based on my enjoyment then 3 stars is accurate. I struggled getting through it, mostly due to the characters and my lack of interest in their story. ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
The banality of evil. Shocking. ( )
  moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
(27) I think this is only the second Ruth Rendell I have read (the first being 'Dark Adapted Eye') but I do think I have found my new favorite mystery writer. I think she does the literary modern gothic mystery thing just perfectly for the two selections I have read. Foreshadowing, family secrets, an old house that is almost a character in its own right, murder, secrets, lies, of course.

In 'House of Stairs', Elizabeth, haunted by the specter of Huntington's chorea, that hangs over her head after her mother died from the same disease - adopts a new mother of sorts in the rich, eccentric, generous, Cosette - a matronly woman of her mother's age whose mid-life crisis propels the characters to live in the titular house. The house with 106 stairs becomes a meeting place for all types of free love, free-loaders, including the enigmatic Bell Sanger and eventually her handsome brother Marc. Now, I won't say more about the plot so as not to spoil but it is fabulously rendered in painstaking detail with lots of literary allusions, in particular, Henry James' 'Wings of a Dove.' I think readers who have read this novel are one step ahead of the game and can figure out some of the twists. The story also toggles back and forth between the present when Elizabeth spots Bell on the street fourteen years later, and the events of the past.

My only quibble is the ending and it caused a whole star deduction. Not that I don't like ambiguity. I do. I just think it could have been written tighter. I am guessing I know what the author intends us to struggle with - the two possible endings for Elizabeth - but I am not sure I am interpreting things correctly. Maybe my own shortcoming, but still, I found it disappointing. Overall though - this did not mar my enjoyment. I am going to go right now and probably Kindle another one of hers for the best type of escapist summer read. ( )
  jhowell | Jun 26, 2016 |
Lizzie is the main character. The book is written through her perspective and flashes back throughout the novel. I had a hard time putting this book down, but I won't describe, so I don't ruin it. ( )
  niquetteb | Mar 19, 2015 |
Who is the sad, reflective narrator and what mysterious illness does she suffer from? What is the strange hold that the tall, dark woman named Bell has over her, and whatever happened at the carefully described House of Stairs in London that sent Bell to prison? The answers are gradually revealed as the intricate knots of this mystery are untied.

The narrator of the story is a middle-aged novelist named Elizabeth Vetch who, ever since she learned of her grim heritage at age fourteen, has lived under the threat of inheriting the fatal disease known as Huntington's chorea, which she refers to as "the terror and the bore." Years before, during the late '60s and early '70s, she and Bell and several other vibrant people lived in the House of Stairs, owned by Elizabeth's recently widowed, newly Bohemian aunt Cosette. The story begins with Elizabeth's chance sighting of Bell; someone whom Elizabeth hasn't seen in fourteen years.

Remembering their past friendship, Elizabeth feels compelled to understand her own reawakened emotions, as well as the events that initiated her and Bell's parting and caused both Cosette and Elizabeth untold pain. Despite "all the terrible things" that passed between them, Elizabeth makes overtures to rekindle their friendship, with terrifying results...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; although, the story being told entirely in flashbacks was slightly confusing to me. I was so eager to know what happened, that being pulled into a flashback scene was at times a little annoying. I still would give The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine - who is actually Ruth Rendell - an A+! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Aug 21, 2014 |
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The taxi-driver thought he had offended me.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Ruth Rendell also writes under the name Barbara Vine. Full name Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh
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An old and quaint house is the setting for murder when it becomes populated by a number of people.

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