Doyenne of mystery and crime-writing Ruth Rendell uses her pen name for the 14th time in this taboo-ridden rollercoaster of a novel. Written as a book within a book, it follows Grace Easton, who, along with her brother Andrew, inherits their grandmother’s sprawling period home. All goes swimmingly until Andrew’s lover, the devilishly handsome but flawed writer James, moves into the house with them, and the dynamic between the siblings is changed forever.
Just as she’s getting into the story of Grace’s personal crisis, Rendell lurches into the sub-story – the plot of an unpublished book written in 1951 that Grace has agreed to read. In it we meet Maud Goodwin and her brother John, both of whom are hiding something – John is gay, and Maud has become pregnant at 15.
The Child’s Child compares the two storylines, which take place almost 100 years apart. Indeed, it soon becomes clear that while we’ve moved on socially from “crimes” such as “homosexualism” and teenage pregnancy, stigma and heartbreak are still rife in the lives of those who don’t fit society’s norms.
And for the most part, that’s what happens. The book certainly invites reflection on what’s considered acceptable now – Andrew and James are openly gay, but the violent death of a friend highlights that homosexuality is still seen by some as perverted. And the lengths Maud’s family go to to hide her pregnancy would be considered child cruelty today.
But while the idea of the book is good, the transition between stories is rather awkward. It’s definitely worth a read though, especially if you’re a fan.