No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2011/02: Died on a Rainy Sunday -- Joan Aiken

The evenings were too short to abolish the McGregors' atmosphere in the house; even when she rolled into bed, dog-tired, she still felt it all about her. It was as if they were gradually taking over psychic occupation, and had left their elemental presences behind them to keep guard, watching and despising. (p.43)
Jane Drummond has just moved with her husband Graham and her two small children (Caroline, four; Donald, less than a year old) to a heavily-mortgaged house in the quiet Kent village of Culveden. Graham has a cavalier attitude to bills, and Jane's increasingly panicked by the final demands. Then, out of the blue, a former employer offers her some work. This will fix their financial problems, but what about the children?

Graham, who's been networking in the village, recommends Tim McGregor (for the gardening) and his wife Myfanwy. Jane finds herself increasingly uneasy about the pair: she suspects Mrs McGregor of cruelty, and wishes Mr McGregor would mend the fence between the garden and the weir. And Graham is behaving more suspiciously than ever ...

I'm fond of Aiken's psychological crime novels, and though Died on a Rainy Sunday is short and somewhat predictable, it has admirable atmosphere: the claustrophobic feel of an English village during a rainy summer is horribly familiar. Jane takes the children for a bus ride on a Sunday because that's the only entertainment. The village post office -- yes, this is a dated novel, published and firmly rooted in the early Seventies -- is a hotbed of gossip. Jane is sensible and independent enough to consider divorce; she's a bit of a snob, though frankly the McGregors would bring out the elitist in anyone; she's also very vulnerable, and knows it.

A quick, entertaining read: Aiken's not a showy writer but she displays a great deal of insight into human nature.

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