I have read The Brimstone Wedding eight years ago (some months before starting my book reviews web site), but I had no memories whatsoever of the story. It is strange, because I remember clearly the circumstances of my reading it, and around the same period, I read a couple of other novels by Ruth Rendell which I remember, if not in details, at least in the great lines. Rereading it, the novel kept its mystery till the end, and my memory would not be jolted, so it was as if I was reading it for the first time. Lucky me…

The narrator of The Brimstone Wedding is Genevieve, a woman in her early thirties, working in a residence for the elderly. She has struck up a friendship with Stella, a smart, elegant lady of seventy dying of lung cancer. Jenny (only Stella calls her Genevieve) likes Stella a lot, but views her as someone from another age, a time when women relied on their husbands for a living and lived sheltered, comfortable lives. And to a certain extent, that is who Stella is. But behind the ladylike facade, Stella harbors a dark secret, a secret that cast a shadow on the last 25 years of her life…

The story of Stella is paralleled with Jenny’s own story, a story of love and deceit: Jenny is married to Mike, but has an affair with Ned, a married man with a five-year-old asthmatic little girl. Although Jenny is very much in love with Ned, she resists his desire to break up his marriage in order to live with her, because of his little girl.

As in other Barbara Vine’s novels, the story told by Stella is full of forebodings, so that the ending doesn’t come as a surprise, but slowly creeps upon the reader, filling him progressively with unease. Vine is always brilliant when it comes to creating oppressive atmospheres, and peculiar characters, if not downright unlikable, at least hiding a dark side or being prone to strange obsessions or disorders (Jenny, for instance, is very superstitious). The Brimstone Wedding is one of Vine’s very good, if not excellent, novels. There is even a little twist at the end which is pretty unusual in Vine’s novels, which don’t need such tricks to make them stand out…

I don’t have any explanation as to why I couldn’t remember a thing about this excellent novel, except for the fact that I was then a relatively newcomer to the literary world of Rendell/Vine, and I developed my taste for them, as one does for good wine…

Rating: 4,5/5