TIGERLILLY’S ORCHIDS

Handsome, dashing and rich; what else could Stuart Font have asked for in his life? Seichel would have been good. Without it, he is someone giving new meaning to the word “naive”.

Font is one of the central character’s in this novel by Ruth Rendell, alongside a suicidal alcoholic, an incompetent columnist, a mistress, the cuckolded husband, a paedophile, a lovesick student and more. Then there’s Tigerlilly, the beautiful Asian neighbour who remains tantalizingly close, but out of reach.

Rendell’s book is crafted from their personalities and interactions, with the perspective shifting from character to character. Although it’s a crime story, that’s very much a minor aspect, with the police involvement and characterization kept almost completely in the background. Instead, what Rendell produces is almost a black comedy – an extreme sitcom – with real people, real idiosyncracies, and real life.

The trigger for much of what happens is Font’s decision to throw a housewarming party. But who to invite and who not to invite? I won’t spoil the plot, but when the unexpected happens, Font’s world is changed. Then he meets Tigerlilly.

Reading this, there are moments when I wanted to laugh out lood at the behaviour of the characters. There’s a great deal of humour, albeit some of it morbid. There’s also pathos – especially looking in on the life of the alcoholic – and horror, for example at the banal existence and self-justification of the paedophile. What I especially like about Rendell’s delivery, is that it lacks pretension. She never tries to impress with her vocabulary, or dazzle with her descriptions. Flowery phrases are banished. The language is straightforward and easy to read. But, the impact remains powerful.

The plot has a ‘whodunnit’, but that’s not a great feature of the book. If it were it would take away from Rendell’s carefully crafted descriptions of these people and their lives: on the one hand, routine, normal, suburban and ordinary. On the other? Read it yourself and see. Recommended.

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