THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT by Barbara Vine

A good, solid, plot description;  “Ivor Tesham is a handsome, single, young member of Parliament whose political star is on the rise. When he meets a woman in a chance encounter-a beautiful, leggy, married woman named Hebe-the two become lovers obsessed with their trysts, spiced up by what the newspapers like to call “adventure sex.”
It’s the dress-up and role-play that inspire Ivor to create a surprise birthday present for his beloved that involves a curbside kidnapping. It’s all intended as mock-dangerous foreplay, but then things take a dark turn.
After things go horribly wrong, Ivor begins to receive anonymous letters that reveal astonishingly specific details about the affair and its aftermath. Somehow he must keep his role from being uncovered-and his political future from being destroyed by scandal.
Like a heretic on the inquisitor’s rack, Ivor is not to be spared the exquisitely slow and tortuous unfolding of events, as hints, nuances, and small revelations lay his darkest secrets hideously bare for all the world to see.
“The Birthday Present” is a deft, insightful, and compulsively readable exploration of obsessive desire-and the dark twists of fate that can shake the lives of even those most insulated by privilege, sophistication, and power.

I have to admit I kind of like the detached British story telling of a first person narrator, although other readers seem to find it off-putting.  This story has two narrators; one is the rather prim-but-kindly brother-in-law of Ivor Tesham, the somewhat sleazy pol, and the other is a somewhat deranged single woman, a friend of the tragically deceased Hebe, whom Hebe used as her alibi for going a-trysting with Ivor Tesham.  OK, maybe not deranged, exactly, but deluded, certainly.  In her thirties she is still single, and cannot understand why.  She keeps losing jobs, and can’t understand why.  When her friend Hebe dies, leaving behind a very young son and a thoroughly gutted husband, Jane offers to baby sit, and finally to act as live in nanny.  She is convinced they will love her and the guy will marry her, but the child obviously doesn’t much like her, and the husband does quite a bit not to be around her very often.

The contrast in the two narrators, one totally grounded, and the other living a life that does not really exist, (complete with a fictional lover she made up so people wouldn’t think she was a total dud),  actually almost meet in the distance, like parallel lines, as we learn of the self-delusion of the PM BIL, who believes he can buy his way out of his problems.  Both, as the British say, come a cropper in the end.

The birthday present of the title refers to a somewhat faddy practice at the time, of the lover arranging a fake kidnapping, with the kidnapped lover bound and gagged and delivered to the lover for a romantic interlude.  Presumably the kidnapped person is in on it, or has some idea of it.  Popular among folks who were of the more kinky-sex orientation.

Barbara Vine is the pseudonym of Ruth Rendell.  Rendell created a third strand of writing with the publication of A Dark Adapted Eye under her pseudonym Barbara Vine in 1986. Books such as King Solomon’s Carpet, A Fatal Inversion and Anna’s Book (original UK title Asta’s Book) inhabit the same territory as her psychological crime novels while they further develop themes of family misunderstandings and the side effects

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s