Synopses & Reviews
The award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood
and The Rottweiler
brings us another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.
Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all. Then something would bring it back or it would return in a dream. The dream always began in the same way.
She and her mother would be climbing the stairs, following Heathers lead through the bedroom to what was on the other side, not a bathroom in the dream but a chamber floored and walled in marble. In the middle of it was a glassy lake. The white thing in the water floated towards her, its face submerged, and her mother said, absurdly, “Dont look!”
The dead man was Ismays stepfather, Guy. Now, nine years on, she and her sister, Heather, still live in the same house in Clapham. But it has been divided into two self-contained flats. Their mother had lived upstairs with her sister, Pamela. And the bathroom, where Guy had drowned, had disappeared.
Ismay worked in public relations, and Heather in catering. They got on well. They always had. They never discussed the changes to the house, still less what had happened that August day. . .
But even lives as private as these, where secrets hang in the air like dust, intertwine with other worlds and other individuals. And, with painful inevitability, the truth will emerge.
From the award-winning author of "The Babes in the Wood" and "The Rottweiler" comes another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.
About the Author
Ruth Rendell has won many awards, including the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for 1976s best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, The New Girl Friend; a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary Award, as well as the Crime Writers Association Cartier Diamond Dagger. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.
Reading Group Guide
1. What was your impression of Ismay? Of Heather? Did you find them likable? How would you describe each girl?
2. Discuss the title of this book in light of Guys demise and Heathers watery death. What might the symbolic meaning of water be here? Consider Christian baptism and the role of water in the forgiveness of sins. What sins are Heather, Ismay, and their mother guilty of? How are they punished?
3. Ten years after Guys death, Beatrix is nearly catatonic, but when she does speak she quotes fire-and-brimstone passages from the Bible. Why? Do you think Beatrixs condition was brought on by Guys death? How is her silence both a haven and a prison?
4. Did you think that Ismay might be wrong about–or even responsible for–Guys death? What does she think was Heathers reason for killing Guy? Why doesnt she ever ask Heather for the truth?
5. Why doesnt Heather like Ismays boyfriend, Andrew? Why do you think Andrew dislikes Heather?
6. Before he meets Heather, Edmunds female influence is from his mother, Irene. How would you describe Irene? What are the sources of her many “illnesses”? Why does she want Edmund to become involved with her friend Marion? What kind of person is Marion? Why might Irene prefer Marion over Heather as a match for Edmund?
7. Although neither of them expects it, Edmund and Heather quickly fall in love. Ismay is also caught off guard. Do you think Ismay should have told Edmund of her suspicions regarding Heathers involvement in Guys death? Put in a similar situation, would you tell your secret or keep what you suspect to yourself?
8. As teenagers, both Ismay and Heather are deeply affected by Guys presence in their lives–and by his death. How does his influence manifest itself in them as adults? Between Ismay, Heather, and Beatrix, which woman is least affected by the murder? Why?
9. Does remodeling the house to erase any trace of the room where Guy died help the family to move on? What do these physical changes represent on a symbolic level?
10. Do Ismays feelings for Guy excuse his behavior toward her? Do you think Heather was justified in killing Guy?
11. Do you think Ismay is jealous of Heather? Why?
12. Why is Andrew so opposed to sharing the flat with Heather and Edmund? What kind of man is he? What kind of boyfriend? Do you think he loves Ismay?
13. Instead of telling Edmund what happened to her stepfather, Ismay records her story using an old tape recorder. She stores the tape in the packaging for an old cassette no one listens to anymore. What do you think of this plan? Why would she keep the tape instead of destroying it?
14. After the murder, Ismay and Beatrix re-create what they believe happened between Heather and Guy. Why? How does this experiment affect them? Do you think Beatrix is a good mother?
15. Does Beatrix do the right thing by protecting Heather from the police?
16. On page 80, we learn that Beatrix knew about Guys flirtation with Ismay. Do you think she also knew about his behavior towards Heather? Why was Beatrix especially vulnerable to Guy? How would you describe Pamela, Ismay and Heathers aunt? How does low self-esteem affect both Beatrix and Pamela? Do you think Heather has low self-esteem? What about Ismay?
17. How are Marion and her brother, Fowler, alike? How are they different? Which of the two is more honest?
18. Why doesnt Edmund tell Ismay that he has seen Andrew out with another woman? Do you think he should have? Do you think Ismays feelings for Andrew would have been affected by this knowledge?
19. How does the concept of “six degrees of separation” factor into the events of The Waters Lovely? What roles do fate and chance play?
20. Why does Heather mention Tess of the DUrbervilles to Edmund? Did the mention of Thomas Hardys classic novel provide a clue for you about her motivations for Guys murder? Why is Heather reluctant to confess to Edmund? Do you think she should have told him before they got married? In her place, would you have told him at all? Why or why not? How are Heather and Edmund affected by her confession?
21. Andrew leaves Ismay for a socialite named Eva Simber. Why does Heather contact her? What does this reveal about Heather? What is Ismays reaction when Eva is murdered later in the novel? Does her reaction reveal a flaw in Ismays character or is it a natural–though callous–response? Why do you think Andrew eventually comes back to Ismay?
22. The events of the novel culminate with Marions blackmailing Ismay. Does she pay off Marion to protect Heather or herself? What does Ismay have to lose? How does Ismay put an end to it?
23. Did you find the ending of The Waters Lovely satisfying?
In Ismays dreams about the day her stepfather was murdered, she opens the door of the upstairs bathroom and sees his naked body floating in the tub, his dead eyes full of fear. She hears her mother screaming at her not to look, but its too late. And now, awake or asleep, Ismay is haunted by what she saw.
The Waters Lovely explores the nature of obsession and the havoc its relentless pressure can wreak. This readers guide is intended as a starting point for discussion about this masterful novel of psychological suspense.