Summary and book reviews of The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell

The Girl Next Door

A Novel

by Ruth Rendell

The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

In this psychologically explosive story from "one of the most remarkable novelists of her generation" (People), the discovery of bones in a tin box sends shockwaves across a group of long-time friends.

In the waning months of the second World War, a group of children discover an earthen tunnel in their neighborhood outside London. Throughout the summer of 1944—until one father forbids it—the subterranean space becomes their "secret garden," where the friends play games and tell stories.

Six decades later, beneath a house on the same land, construction workers uncover a tin box containing two skeletal hands, one male and one female. As the discovery makes national news, the friends come together once again, to recall their days in the tunnel for the detective investigating the case. Is the truth buried among these aging friends and their memories?

This impromptu reunion causes long-simmering feelings to bubble to the surface. Alan, stuck in a passionless marriage, begins flirting with Daphne, a glamorous widow. Michael considers contacting his estranged father, who sent Michael to live with an aunt after his mother vanished in 1944. Lewis begins remembering details about his Uncle James, an army private who once accompanied the children into the tunnels, and who later disappeared.

In The Girl Next Door Rendell brilliantly shatters the assumptions about age, showing that the choices people make—and the emotions behind them—remain as potent in late life as they were in youth.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "In those days you had to get married. There were no two ways about it" (p. 1). In part, The Girl Next Door is an investigation of traditional marriage—its rewards, its obligations, and the ways couples are viewed by others. Compare and contrast several of the unions portrayed in the novel, including Anita and John Winwood, Rosemary and Alan Norris, Michael and Vivien Winwood, Freya and David, and Stanley and Helen Batchelor. What does each partner provide the other? In what ways do these marriages improve or stymie the characters' lives?
  2. What is the significance of setting the characters' childhood in World War II? How does the specter of the war overshadow the novel?
  3. Rendell introduces us to two murderous characters in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If you don’t usually like mysteries you will like this one. I can say that with a certain degree of confidence because this is more character study than mystery. Although as a longtime mystery and Rendell fan I can say, also, that this is a very satisfying whodunit.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review (699 words).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post

Rendell has for years, along with her friend P.D. James, been bringing new sophistication and psychological depth to the traditional English mystery.

The New York Times Book Review

Ruth Rendell is my dream writer. Her prose style...has the disquieting intimacy of an alien touch in the dark.

USA Today

Refined, probing, and intelligent.... The book is never less than a pleasure.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The characters jump off the page. The page-to-page surprises are so clever that the reader is left agape at each twist and turn. The pieces fit together brilliantly.

The New York Times Book Review

'Subtle' is an inadequate word for Ruth Rendell. So are 'crafty,' 'cunning,' 'clever' and 'sly.

Los Angeles Times

If you’re unfamiliar with Ruth Rendell, if you’ve somehow managed to miss her sixty or so books … then, congratulations: Your reading life is about to get infinitely richer.

Publishers Weekly

Rendell keeps the plot and the home fires burning, and the most memorable characters, Daphne and Woody, cast sufficient light to brighten their somewhat dull companions.

Kirkus Reviews

The sedate pace and sociological focus of Rendell's recent work . . . are quickened here by the capacity of her golden agers to act, and act out, in ways as surprising as they are logical.

Booklist

Starred Review. Using her customary spare yet decorous style and measured pace, Rendell, now in her 80s, beautifully and carefully individualizes each member of her ensemble cast, at the same time creating not a grim reminder of mortality but a picture of moribund lives renewed. A special book by a special writer.

Library Journal

Starred Review. [Rendell] creates another riveting story with her sharp characterizations and keen sense of irony that will keep readers engaged from start to finish. Fans of psychological suspense, along with Rendell's loyal following, will love this complex story.

Author Blurb Stephen King
No one surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, istability, and malignant coincidence.

Author Blurb Patricia Cornwell
Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time.

Reader Reviews

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What's In a (House) Name?

Buckingham PalaceEven in the 21st Century, to send a letter to the Queen of England one's envelope might be addressed simply: Her Majesty The Queen. Buckingham Palace. London. No street address or postcode is necessary. Her royal home has a name. As such it follows an ancient and still-popular British custom; naming one's house. While numbered street addresses have replaced names in cities and towns, most houses in rural areas have only ever been known by name and some residents in towns and cities choose to give their homes names in addition to their number.

Wynding DownA survey taken a few years ago found that roughly one third of United Kingdom respondents noted they either had lived or still lived in a house that had a name. Nearly an equal number ...

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