A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine
Bantam, September 1987
I borrowed my copy from the library.
A Fatal Inversion is my first Barbara Vine (and I’ve only read one Ruth Rendell that I remember- sort of: From Doon with Death). I figured it would be a good pick for me because I read that this book was heavy on psychological suspense, and it popped up on a list of Top 100 Crime Novels of the Century. Thankfully I agree with the awards and list accolades: A Fatal Inversion is a fine read that grows in my estimation the further I am from it.
The story takes place during an incredibly hot summer in 1976 in England at a country mansion that nineteen-year-old Adam inherited from his great-uncle after his first year at university. He spends the summer with a small group of friends and acquaintances, and the book focuses on three main perspectives: Adam, his friend Rufus, and their new acquaintance Shiva.
The descriptions are very detailed, and the mood of the story from 1976 is quite hazy, lazy and sunny.
Adam closed his eyes and turned his head away from Anne. A down-stuffed duvet in a printed cotton cover lay over them. It had been a quilt at Ecalpemos, faded yellow satin, brought in by Vivien from the terrace when the rain began. Quilts were what you lay on to sunbathe that summer, no for warmth on beds, but slung for lounging comfort as it might be on some Damasene rooftop. Night after night they had lain out there in the soft, scented warmth, looking at the stars, or lighting candles stuk in Rufus’s wine bottles, eating and drinking, talking, hoping, and happy. That summer–there had never been another like it, before or since (p. 57).
The story begins with the discovery of human skeletons in a pet cemetery at said country mansion in 1987, and the story about Adam in 1976 will eventually tell what happened and whose skeletons were discovered over 10 years later. It’s obvious early on who is guilty, but Vine doles out details of the complete story in the past quite slowly– and effectively– to make this a very involving read. She has a lot to say about guilt and degrees of guilt, and it would make for a great book club discussion.
You have to be able to stand self-involved young adults to be able to get into this story, and thankfully this feels like a condensed, creepy version of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I much preferred this book to the Tartt. The story is heartbreaking, the plotting is insanely good, and the ending is so apt. I love the ending. It’s really a masterful story.
Thanks to Rich at Past Offences for hosting this monthly Crimes of the Century reading challenge. I’ve picked a lot of female writers I hadn’t read much of before, and I’ve been pretty excited by all of them (du Maurier, Allingham, and Highsmith).
7 thoughts on “A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine, My #1987book”
YES! Your comparison with Donna Tartt is spot- on and now I know why I didn’t like The Secret History all that much – because I felt it had all been done in a much more engaging and sinister way here.
And I think the Tartt book came out 5 years after this one– definitely not enough time to forget the original.
You’re so right about The Secret History. I read it earlier this year and even though I enjoyed it well enough, I kept thinking Ruth Rendell could have done it better, and this was the book I had in mind. (I even mentioned it in my review.)
Ruth Rendell is probably my favorite crime writer, especially when she’s writing as Barbara Vine. I was gutted by her death this year, but it’s wonderful that she has such an extensive backlist. I’ve read heaps of her books, and I still have heaps left to read.
I have lots to read as well, and I’ll take a peek at your reviews soon, Teresa!
Really liked this one, I usually do like her writing.
[…] not gruesome in its depiction of crimes nor is it structured the same way. Much like when I read A Fatal Inversion earlier this summer, I finished How Like an Angel and thought to myself how incredibly structured […]
[…] A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine– ingeniously plotted. She and Millar win the plotting contest among the books I’ve read this year. Also, this book beats Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in terms of criminal undergraduates: Vine’s is more effective because it’s not so long. […]