tirsdag den 17. august 2010

Ruth Rendell, Simisola (1994)

[This post is not a review, but a comment on Rendell´s engagement in a social issue]

In this novel, unemployment and the social deroute which may follow it form an interesting backdrop, or social commentary, if you like. Besides, the narrator sets out to expose the lifestyle of the privileged few of Kingsmarkham right from the first page:

“There were four people besides himself in the waiting room and none of them looked ill. The olive-skinned blonde in the designer tracksuit bloomed with health, her body all muscles her hands all golden tendons, apart from the geranium nails and the nicotine stains on the right forefinger. She had changed her seat when a child of two arrived with its mother and homed on the chair next to hers.”

“To Wexford´s surprise the smoker [the olive-skinned blonde] turned to him and said, without preamble, ´I called the doctor, but he refused to come. Isn´t that amazing? I was forced to come here myself.´”

Simisola is a crime novel, a brilliant one of its kind, but the themes of unemployment and  immigration, illegal as well as legal, are just as important. In Chief Inspector Wexford´s youth, coloured people were a rare sight in Kingsmarkham, and when the story begins, they are still a very small minority indeed. One of the newcomers is Wexford´s own GP, Dr Raymond Akande. Wexford likes his new doctor, and perhaps he secretly congratulates himself that he is so open and forthcoming, and though he explains to Mike Burden that ´we are all prejudiced´, he certainly feels less prejudiced than most of his colleagues. (I know that occasionally some modern readers have been annoyed by Wexford´s old-fashioned attitudes, but this novel made me suspect that though the writer likes him, she is also able to look through him and expose some of his flaws for what they are).

Dr Akande´s daughter, Melanie, disappears, and during the long search for her, the attitudes and prejudices of Kingsmarkham´s police force are tested. And of course we also meet some of the less fortunate immigrants; young women who work as illegal nannies and cleaners for the very rich, and before the story ends, we realize that some of them live under conditions which are not far from those of their slave ancestors. So though I enjoyed all the Wexford stories before Simisola, this one is the first that made such a strong impression on me that I have never forgotten the victim (and have to reread it every few years – always getting a lump in my throat).

No more revelations as they may spoil the plot for you if you have not read this five-star crime novel yet, but it has probably left many readers wondering that affluent people need to employ cheap, illegal immigrants at all. But then they would never have become so rich if they threw away their money, would they?

Next week: Ruth Rendell, Road Rage (1997)

9 kommentarer:

Anonym sagde ...

Dorte - Thanks for this excellent discussion! Simeiola really gives readers a searing look at the social fabric of Kingsmarkham and it truly is a thought-provoking commentary on prejudice, assumptions and the gap between those who have and those who do not.

Kelly sagde ...

Interesting. A topic debated even more "hotly" now than when this book was written.

I definitely need to check the used bookstore for all the Wexford novels. Nothing like a good psychological thriller!

Felicity Grace Terry sagde ...

I was given this book and to be honest did not really like the sound of it - your post has given me more insight and now I rather like the idea,thanks Dorte.

Dorte H sagde ...

Margot: some think Rendell is a bit conservative, and perhaps she is, but she doesn´t just accept social injustice.

Kelly: yes, it is really funny that she wrote this and stated that there were only 18 coloured people in Kingsmarkham. Amazing how they manage to stick out :D

Tracy: it is a very fine crime novel, and Rendell´s language is always fantastic. Besides, this one has a plot that is just unforgettable to me.

pattinase (abbott) sagde ...

SIMISOLA shook me to my core.

Vanda Symon sagde ...

I can see I'm going to have to add it to my acquisitions list...

I like books that look at social and political issues of the day.

Dorte H sagde ...

Patti: I know I can´t be the only reader it made such an impression on.

Vanda: and the best part is the way she weaves the issue and the plot together so it makes a lasting impression on the readers. But no spoilers.

Lauren sagde ...

I go back and forth on Wexford, but Simisola really stuck in my mind, though I haven't read it for a decade at least.

It's a very interesting exploration of the problems without being too didactic or too much "wo is us, times have changed."


Dorte H sagde ...

Lauren: Rendell´s novels are not all of the same quality, but where other writers sometimes flop completely, I´d give most of her books 4 or 5 stars, and a few ones only 3 stars. I know she is a bit conservative, but so am I in some respects, and though she is a contemporary writer, it is still fair to remember that she is 80 years old.