What a wowser of a book. This was written by Ruth Rendell under her pseudonym of Barbara Vine. She says that Barbara Vine has the softer voice, and a slower pace, is perhaps more sensitive and intuitive.
About the title: A dark-adapted eye is one that has adjusted to darkness so that it is able to discern objects. In the context of the novel, the title refers to the narrator’s ability, after many years, to examine and analyze her family’s history and its tragedy.
The setting is England, during and after the Second World War. The first person narrator, Faith Severn, is approached by a true crime writer about an event that happened in her family some decades ago. The book is the recounting of her memories of the story of her aunt, her father’s twin. There is a third sibling, a much younger sister, to whom Vera, the aunt, is totally devoted, even to the exclusion of her own son, whom she shuttles off to boarding school, She then provides a home for the sister and her son after the deaths of their parents. Her husband is career military and almost never home.
After the younger sister joins the WRNS and essentially moves out of the house, Aunt Vera, has a second son, Jamie. Seeing as how her husband was deployed at the time, and she is giving out that it is a 10-1/2 month pregnancy, the child is something of a mystery, but Vera is obsessed with this child. Eventually, the younger sister marries a wealthy man, and decides she wants to adopt the boy, because Faith is obviously unwell and mentally unstable. Then ensues a terrible custody fight, ending in dire consequences. I have left out so many of the details because the fun in this book is finding them out yourself.
Not only is this a great soap-opera-y story, the writing is simply delicious, as I think only British writing can be. It is formal, almost staid, but rolls along in a manner that simply pulls you into the story and won’t let go.
It is a story of dysfunction, and how family relationships can warp its members for their entire lives.