Sue Wilson talks to crime queen Ruth Rendell about her new murder
Celebration time for crime fans. with the appearance of Ruth Rendell's Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter— the first Wexford novel for four years. A central plank in British crime fiction’s modern tradition ofgloomy. sensitive, literary ‘tecs, Wexford here is put to work solving a particularly grisly multiple murder. the shooting of. a wealthy. ageing anthropologist. her husband, i 1: daughter and granddaughter. only the last of ' whom survives. The murky psychological twists l and tensions of the family unit — familiar Rendell territory — are unravelled with her (and
Wexford‘s) customary skill and intuition. While
the framework of the police procedural. especially one featuring a well-loved serial character. is inevitably restrictive. Rendell fleshes it out effectively with broader thematic substance. An older. simpler. greener and pleasanter England is ; evoked by the fairy-tale language used to describe - the vast forest surrounding the site of the murders, contrasting resonantly with the ugly, corrupt
Outside the woods. though, the world is emphatically modern. with thickly-sprinkled references to faxes. Vodaphones, AIDS. Eastern Eumpe. environmentalism, the Poll Tax and other 905 bywords. ‘The Wexford books are always topical.‘ Rendell says firmly. ‘In fact. somebody reviewing this one said that the whole collection of Wexfords would form a kind ofsocial document of
the past twenty or thirty years. and I think that‘s true. Also. I do use them to some extent as a platform for feelings I have. enthusiasms and grievances about things that are going on.‘
In the new novel. those grievances would appear to include one against profile writer Lynn Barber. transparently renatned but still writing for the Independent on Sunday: ‘Wherever it was possible to be snide. Win Carver was snide.‘ Rendell also appears to have little patience with modern fiction. judging by her enjoyable portrait of the insufferable ‘post-post modern‘. Booker-shortlisted novelist who has an affair with Wexford‘s favourite daughter. much to her
A healthy dollop of domestic problems is
Ruth Rendell }
another familiar ingredient in the Wexford recipe
— a case ofgiving the people what they want. it
would seem. ‘I know my readers like family life.’
says Rendell. ‘What they‘re reading is soap opera.
that's what they want — from the letters I get you
would think that most people are much more
interested in Wexford‘s family than in the progress
. ofthe plot.‘
Rendell herself appears to have little affection
7 for her fellow mortals— like her other books. the
: new novel offers a pretty comfortless view of
1 humanity. The non-police characters. even those
who prove to be innocent of any crime. are
i uniformly portrayed as bundles ofunappealing traits — petty-mindedness. spite. stupidity. selfishness. . . 'lt‘s much easier to write about unlikeable people than about likeable people.’ says Rendell. ‘I don‘t think you want too many
’ little charmers in a book of this sort. Wexford.
; Burden. their families - they represent the norm.
the status quo. they're the nice people. while all
the others are . . . well. not so nice.‘ While this
negative perspective enables the reader to follow
developments with a detective‘s mistrustful eye.
l ultimately it makes for pretty dispiriting reading.
Rather than the conventional satisfaction ofseeing
safe. orderly normality restored when the aberrant
criminal is caught. Rendell‘s books leave you with
a queasy feeling that normality consists of a
generally prevailing nastiness. ready to erupt
again at any time.
When it does however. Reg Wexford may no longer be around to fight it. as his creator admits she is somewhat bored with the character— hardly surprising after fifteen novels. ‘I think this will be the last one.‘ she says. ‘I'm afraid ofgetting stale — when I first started writing them it was very easy, it was all new and fresh. but it’s much harder nowzl don‘t want to find myselfwriting the same book
K issing the Gunner's Daughter is published by Hutch inson at £14. ()9.
_ T ruecoou rs
While the editors would doubtless have wished it otherwise, the appearance of a new book about mixed-race relationships is given an added timeliness by the current resurgence of racist movements around the world. The Colour of Love contains first-hand accounts from people at one of the sharpest ends of British race relations —couples who, by falling in love, have crossed ethnic, cultural and religious divides, as well as the children of these
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Anne Montague
One of the aims in producing the book was to challenge the conventional ‘sociological‘ view of mixed-race partnerships as primarily problematic. While not wanting to belittle the difficulties faced by mixed couples, the editors saw it as important to reflect the complexity and diversity of individual experiences, which is why the interviews are presented without comment, enabling people to speak entirely for themselves. ‘It was a very deliberate decision not to draw
conclusions,’ says co-editor Anne Montague. ‘That‘s part of the whole problem, the way these relationships have always been pathologised. We just wanted to give a window onto the different kinds of experiences these people have, and the ways they find to cope with them.‘
People from a wide variety of racial backgrounds (and of ages and classes) contributed to the book- Asian-born, British Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean, black British, white British, Muslim, Jewish. While they each have their own unique story to tell, they share the experience of having their personal lives invaded by the outside world in a way that few people in same-race couples ever experience. Most have experienced hostility, often intense and ugly, from both ‘sides’ - racist abuse from whites, family rejection, accusations of sell-out or betrayal from blacks or Asians — hostility which strikes at the very heart of an individual’s sense of identity, and therefore of any relationship.
Yet what makes the book so powerful and frequently moving is the strength and courage with which people resist these pressures. ‘Almost everybody we interviewed was so much more sell-aware than people who don‘t have to think about these things,’ says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the book's other co-editor. ‘I found that really
'quite moving, because there was pressure on them, they ended up being very acutely tuned to themselves and what was happening in their Iives;l think that's a real source of pride for me, that the book illustrates how extraordinary very ordinary people become because of these adverse attitudes towards them.‘
On a less positive note, the editors found that many of the young people they interviewed, from different racial backgrounds, were vehemently opposed to mixed relationships, often from a ‘BIack-Pride'-style perspective. The Gas dream of a happy multicultural melting-pot, Alibhai-Brown believes, is well and truly dead, a casualty of Thatcherism's concerted attacks on cultural diversity. She hopes, however, that the growth of internationalism may yet bring greater tolerance in its train. ‘lt‘s very interesting, as we go into Europe, that the British now fear losing their identity in much the the same way we did,‘ she says. ‘With so many different cultures in Europe, perhaps people will begin to feel safer about diversity, will stop going on about purity, which is a senile notion anyway - what is British culture now? Is curry and chips British culture? It is, isn‘t it?’ (Sue Wilson)
The Colour of Love is published by Virago at £6.99
66 The List 14 - 27 February 1992