Grasshopper is the story of a young woman, Clodagh Brown, whose teenage years are darkened by a terrible event involving a pylon. A couple of years later, Clodagh, who managed mediocre A levels after the traumatism she went through, leaves for London to get a superior education. Claustrophobic, she has to live in an apartment located in the basement of a house belonging to a remote cousin. Max, the cousin, and his wife Selina, are cold and unwelcoming, and Clodagh soon finds out that psychology and business studies are not really her thing. After a while, she meets a group of social misfits named Silver, Liv, Wim and Johnny, who squat Silver’s place, located in a top-floor apartment in her neighborhood. Clodagh soon discover their strange pastime: at night, they like to climb the roofs of London…

Grasshopper is a first-person account with Clodagh telling her story several years after the events she narrates. Like with other Barbara Vine stories, the terrible events that will take place at the end are foreshadowed, but we are also mislead by Vine and unable to predict exactly what form the tragedy will take. Unlike in The Minotaur, I wasn’t able to guess what would happen, Vine manages to drop hints along the way without spoiling the surprise.

I have read some reviews on amazon.com and disagree with readers that find Grasshopper very different from other Barbara Vine books. As with A Fatal Inversion and The House of Stairs, she concentrates on a small community of young misfits, each with an individual story, and observes what happens to them when they isolate themselves from society. In my opinion it is one of the things she does best. Other reviewers have claimed to feel  no sympathy for any of the characters. This remark (about any book) annoys me. I don’t think we have to like the characters of a book to love a book. There are characters we even love to hate. Anyway, if this is usually true for Rendell/Vine’s books, that the characters are unlikable, in this case, I felt a lot of sympathy and understanding for the two main characters, Clodagh and Silver. I can even say that Clodagh reminded me in some ways of my own students days. I could also relate to the claustrophobia, having a couple of phobias myself. I loved how Vine depicted young students from the late eighties, although a couple of thing seemed anachronistic: “There was something deeply old-fashioned about Silver, though in the nicest possible way. He had no interest in the toys of modern lifestyle, television, video recorders, movie cameras, any cameras, mobile phones, computers and computer games.” How many young people had computers and mobile phones in the late eighties anyway? At one other point, Vine talks about the philosophy of love developed by the youth after AIDS awareness. Granted, AIDS was known and talked about in the late eighties, but didn’t attitudes toward sex truly change a bit later than that?

Grasshopper is a very good Vine’s novel. I liked how major events are set about by chance and series of coincidences in the character’s lives, as Clodagh underlines at one point. Another theme which is developed is “the road to hell paved with good intentions”, which takes all its signification as the story unfolds.  Vine has created interesting, unforgettable characters, as usual, each with a story linked to their past (the only story which was bit of let-down, probably because it was delayed for so long, is Wim’s).

Grasshopper is another literate thriller by one of my favorite writers…

Rating: 4,5/5