Anna’s Book by Barbara Vine

Anna Westerby is a Danish wife living in London around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. She is not a very nice person. Although conventionally moral, Anna dislikes her husband and only has a tempered affection for her two young sons. She can’t stand most of her neighbors, and her only happiness in life is the prospect that her expected third child will be a daughter, someone she can understand and love and share a life with.

We learn all of this information about Anna’s affections and distastes from excerpts of her journal, a journal that she keeps secretly from sometime in 1905 until an event in the 1950’s(?) causes her to stop writing. Anna does get her hoped-for daughter, and the two do share a special bond. The story moves back and forth between Anna’s early adult life, captured in her journals, and her old age and beyond, recounted by her granddaughter, Ann. There’s a mystery concerning Swanny, the beloved daughter, and whether or not Anna is an unreliable narrator or just a forgetful and somewhat incendiary old lady who enjoys conjuring up drama.

Barbara Vine is the pseudonymous “alter-ego” of mystery writer Ruth Rendell, and under the two names Ms. Rendell has written more than fifty published novels. Anna’s Book (originally published in the UK as Asta’s Book) is, like the others in her body of work, a suspense novel that majors on characterizations and psychological analysis. The book does a great job of picking apart the complicated psychological motives and inner workings of the various characters and then patiently putting them back together again, like Humpty Dumpty, to form a satisfying plot and a conclusion.

It’s not an action suspense thriller, but if you enjoy trying to figure people out and attempting to unravel historical mysteries, Anna’s Book might be just the ticket for a long winter’s night read.

More information on Barbara Vine and her books:
Fatal Inversions: A Barbara Vine Information Web(site)
Anna’s Book reviewed at Jenny’s Books.
Anna’s Book reviewed by Superfast Reader

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