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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dark Corners

Ruth Rendell

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To purchase Dark Corners

Title: Dark Corners
Author: Ruth Rendell
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 228 pages
Availability: Dark Corners - US
Dark Corners - UK
Dark Corners - Canada
Les coins obscurs - France
Der Fremde im Haus - Deutschland
Angolo buio - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B : spread a bit thin, but quite nicely turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 30/10/2015 Barry Forshaw
The Guardian . 22/10/2015 Mark Lawson
The Independent . 9/10/2015 Andrew Wilson
The Nation . 14/3/2016 Charles Taylor
New Statesman . 16/10/2015 Ian Rankin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/11/2015 Marilyn Stasio
The Spectator . 17/10/2015 Harriet Waugh
The Telegraph . 17/10/2015 Jake Kerridge
The Times . 10/10/2015 Kate Saunders
Wall St. Journal . 23/10/2015 Tom Nolan
The Washington Post . 15/10/2015 Dennis Drabelle

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but most find it a typical and very good effort

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dark Corners is vintage Rendell in other ways too. She was always happy dealing with a large and variegated cast of characters, and the novel boasts a striking dramatis personae. Each is characterised with an attention to detail and nuance that is fully the equal of more "literary" novelists." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times

  • "Dark Corners, although a minor work compared to Rendell titles such as Simisola or the Vine book A Fatal Inversion, enjoyably and honourably concludes Rendellís six decades of exploring the death force that, as her last book demonstrates, may be triggered in unexpected people and places." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "Dark Corners is written in a deceptively simple manner, and at times it reads like a twisted fairy tale. The pace is quick and although it hardly takes any time to read -- I finished it in two sittings -- it leaves an uneasiness behind like a dark stain on the consciousness." - Andrew Wilson, The Independent

  • "The coldness that alienates some readers from Rendell is also what makes those of us who enjoy her indulge in grim laughter at the plight of her characters. The only assurance that Rendell offers her readers is that no matter how uncomfortable a situation her protagonists find themselves in, it will always get worse." - Charles Taylor, The Nation

  • "Dark Corners is twisty, character-≠driven and claustrophobic. Rendellís London seems full of everyday menace, while her prose remains elegantly understated. (...) (T)he book is at its best in its atmosphere of palpable dread and awful inevitability." - Ian Rankin, New Statesman

  • "(A) deliciously diabolical tale on a favorite theme: one personís devouring of a weaker personís identity." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Dark Corners is not a book for which she will be remembered." - Harriet Waugh, The Spectator

  • "It is a gripping story, although its intensity is diluted by two sub-plots (.....) You will feel the authentic Rendell prickle of fear as you realise how easily a mis-step could plunge you into a situation like Carl's." - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "(A) worthy final entry in her body of work. (...) The Pinteresque menace in Rendellís book is lightened by muted satire -- and by unexpected figures who appear out of the karmic blue, as if in a J.B. Priestley play, to offer a form of redemption." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Dark Corners begins with Carl, just twenty-three, having just published his first novel and inherited the family home, centrally located in London. Realistic about how much writing is likely to bring in, he decides to rent the top floor of his house (for £1200/month), and simply chooses the first applicant, pet clinic employee Dermot. Just to make sure readers are aware of just how naïve Carl is Rendell already points out here, on the second page: "It was a decision he was bitterly to regret."
       Among the leftovers in the house from Carl's father is a whole stash of "samples of alternative medicines, homeopathic remedies, and herbal pills". Among them are a hundred pills of dinitrophenol -- DNP -- a controversial (because potentially hazardous) weight loss supplement. Carl's friend Stacey, who has been putting on some weight, offers to buy fifty from him. Carl, always money-conscious, likes the idea of monetizing the otherwise useless pills and sells them to her -- and Dermot overhears the transaction. Soon enough Stacey is dead and Dermot is toying with Carl, refusing to pay rent any longer and generally prodding Carl's guilty conscience.
       Carl isn't (legally) at fault for Stacey's death, but he can't bear the idea that his role in it would become known, so he doesn't even challenge Dermot. His girlfriend Nicola doesn't understand why Carl doesn't stand up to Dermot, but he can't bring himself to, cowering weakly instead. He recognizes that he's letting this get to him (and that it is affecting both the work on his second novel and his living standards, as he's now very short of money), but can't see a way out:

     You must stop this, he told himself, you will drive yourself mad. But what did you do when you were caught in a trap as he was ?
       Rendell doesn't focus simply on Carl and his dilemma, but detours into other stories too: Stacey's friend Lizzie decides that the deceased's apartment would be a nice place to settle in and simply moves in; eventually she also takes a job at the pet clinic. Lizzie's father Tom, recently retired, had never even been on a bus until age sixty-five, but armed with the free pass seniors get he's found a new pass-time and seems to spend most of his time riding far and wide. These peripheral storylines take some very strange and striking detours but too many of them are also blind alleys, feeling in part amiss alongside the original storyline (though blasé Lizzie is an entertaining character and serves a useful role).
       Dark Corners is, more than anything, a novel of opportunism: Dermot, Lizzie, and, in a particularly nice turn, Dermot's girlfriend, all leap opportunistically; so does, when the opportunity arises, Carl -- though as with nearly everything Carl does, it feels much more like a wild swing out of desperation than a coldly calculated deliberate act (while the others all turn out to be very cold, shrewd calculators). Quite a few characters prove to be quite callous beneath a far more genteel-, almost innocent-appearing surface; really only Carl is all surface, flailing helplessly and hopelessly about.
       Rendell gets straight to the point early on in the novel, sketching out the intricate set-up with simple clarity. She doesn't lose the plot, but can't quite hold the reins as tightly for the rest: Carl is too ridiculously weak-willed for the central storyline, and yet Rendell can't quite hand the story over to the far more interesting Lizzie or even Dermot. What Carl finds himself driven to doesn't come as that much of a surprise -- though Rendell does add some nice twists to that -- but it's telling that his ultimate fate is summed up second-hand, a notice read in a newspaper, barely more than incidental.
       Dark Corners feels a bit pieced-together, with some (major) odds and ends -- there's a kidnapping, and a bomb goes off -- that are more distracting than anything else, but Rendell's sure writing-touch is almost enough to smooth over even these. If Carl is an annoying protagonist, there's still more than enough here that is intriguing and well-done, and overall it's still quite an enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 November 2015

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Dark Corners: Reviews: Ruth Rendell: Other books by Ruth Rendell under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British mystery writer Ruth Rendell lived 1930 to 2015.

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© 2015-2023 the complete review

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