Excerpt from The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Girl Next Door

A Novel

by Ruth Rendell

The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell X
The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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1

He was handsome man. A handsome boy, his mother called him, because she started praising his looks when he was five. Before that, he received the compliments children necessarily get: "Beautiful baby" and "Isn't he lovely?" His father was never there. The boy left school at fourteen—you could then—and went to work in a market garden, a slaughterhouse, and finally a cosmetics factory. The boss's daughter fell in love with him. He was twenty by then, so they got married. Anita's father said he would stop her having the money her grandmother had left her, but in the event he was too tenderhearted to do so. It wasn't a large sum but it was enough to buy a house on the Hill in Loughton, twelve miles from London but almost in the country. Woody, as his mother and his wife called him, as someone at school had first named him, hated work and decided never to do any more as long as he lived. There was enough left to live on but whether for the rest of his life he didn't know. He was only twenty-three.

In those days you had to get married. There were no two ways about it. Living together was not far short of a crime. They were happy enough for a couple of years. His mother died and he inherited her house as well as a small amount of money. Next Anita's father died. People died at a much younger age in the 1930s. She was an only child, so it was her turn to inherit a parental legacy, and it was much in excess of what Woody had got. Because he didn't work, Woody was always at home. He thought he "owed it to himself" to keep a close eye on his wife. She was always going to London to buy clothes, always having her hair done, going off for weekends to stay, she said, with girls she had been to school with and were now married. He wasn't invited.

A woman came in to do the cleaning. Woody thought his wife could have done that and he said so but he couldn't stop it. She paid. She didn't even look after the child, took little notice of it as far as he could see. He had read somewhere that once, sixty or seventy years ago, an act of Parliament was passed letting married women keep the money that was theirs. Before that, they had to hand it over to their husbands. He hated that act. How perfect life would have been when the men got all the money.

When the war came, he was thirty. The horrible possibility of being called up loomed. But he had a stroke of luck. He told the doctor he wanted to know if he was perfectly fit so that he could join up. The navy was his choice. He felt well, he always did, nothing wrong with him—unfortunately. But the doctor found a heart murmur, the result, he said, of pneumonia when Woody was a child. He remembered that pneumonia, remembered most of all his mother's anxiety and terror. But he was overjoyed, too thankful to dwell much on his heart. He put on a show of sorrow for the doctor and said in a regretful tone that he felt all right and would no doubt live to be a hundred. A lot of his wife's friends were always in the house. One of them was in uniform. He wasn't as good-looking as Woody but the uniform was no doubt a great attraction. Another young man who was staying nearby was often to be found making himself tea in Woody's kitchen or drinking it in Woody's lounge with Woody's wife. He wasn't much to look at.

"You judge everybody by their appearance," said his wife. "That's all that counts with you."

"I judged you by yours. What else was there?"

If his wife wanted to be unfaithful to him, there was nowhere for her to go. But love or something will find a way. How did he know where she really was on these visits to old school friends he was supposed to accept? His wife had red hair and dark blue eyes; her friend, the one in uniform, had eyes the same colour and light brown hair. One afternoon Woody walked into the kitchen to get money out of the biscuit tin to pay Mrs. Mopp, who was really called Mrs. Moss. But Mrs. Mopp was a funny name and Mrs. Moss wasn't. She was just behind him, too greedy for her cash, he thought, to let him out of her sight. His wife was sitting at the kitchen table, holding hands with the one in uniform. Her hand was lying on the American cloth cover of the table, and the man's was lying on top of it, holding it there. They snatched their hands away when Woody came in but not soon enough. Woody paid Mrs. Mopp and walked out, saying nothing to the man and the woman, who just sat there, looking down into their laps.

Excerpted from The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell. Copyright © 2014 by Ruth Rendell. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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