We decided to go somewhere a little different for book club this time around. Ruth Rendell is a crime writer who is famous and prolific and just always there, sitting on the to-read shelf. So we picked up one of her books, A Judgement in Stone, which had been recommended by several people as one of her best.
This was a mistake, and I would not recommend this book to other book clubs. I would probably also avoid recommending it to other readers, in fact. And the weird thing is, it's not like it was bad at all. It was just kind of nothing.
On the first page of the book, you're told that the Coverdale family was murdered by their housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, on Valentine's Day, and that this happened because Eunice was illiterate. The book then proceeds through the year leading up to the event, beginning with Eunice's interview and ending with the shooting. There are no surprises at all--obviously not the big ones, but there aren't really any little ones, either. Honestly, this read like true crime--a lot of information, with some really good character portrayals, actually. But knowing who lived and who died, and that all of the characters you were getting to know were going to die (and how) took a lot of wind out of the book's sails.
Another thing that felt "true crime" to me was the way Eunice's illiteracy was hammered home as The Reason She Did This, when it's not quite true. Eunice is definitely illiterate, and she's worried about keeping the secret and hates anything to do with writing. But the reason she did it is because she's a sociopath. If she had killed them because they chewed with their mouths open, that wouldn't be the reason she did it--the reason is because she's a monster.
In fact, the illiteracy thing is hammered on so hard that it ends up misshapen by the end of the book. People who can't read think in pictures and very simple words. People who can't read are base and brutish--reading is the center of all refinement, all civilization, and without it you are an animal who can't be trusted. I have friends who volunteer as adult literacy tutors, and I'm pretty sure they'll tell you that's not true. Honestly, I was offended on behalf of the non-readers of the world.
Another reason I think this book didn't click for me in particular, though, was the fact of its setting at a house in the English country. From the beginning, it was causing me flashbacks to The Red House, a former book club choice with a similar setting. By the end, I could use Judgement as a comparison to point out what I didn't like about Red House, but at when I started it, I could feel doubt creeping up on me, and I don't think it helped my experience of the book.
Next book club is Every Day, which I read and reviewed here already, and loved. It sounds like the book club reviews are already mixed; that always makes a fun meeting!