Unlike the other residents of Middleton Hall, Stella is elegant, smart, and in control. Only Jenny, her care assistant, knows that she harbours a painful secret, and only she can prevent Stella from carrying it to the grave.
As the women talk, Jenny pieces together the answers to many questions that arise: Why has she kept possession of a house that her family don’t know about? What happened there that holds the key to a distant tragedy?
As Jenny uses the house to meet her lover, she makes some unusual discoveries, but only when Stella leaves Jenny her tape recorder, into which she has recorded the true events of the past, can the truth be finally - and shockingly - revealed.
©1995 Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd (P)2010 BBC Audiobooks Ltd
Until fairly recently, I didn't realize that A-list film actors recorded audiobooks. But apparently, quite a few have, and this recording of The Brimstone Wedding, narrated by the redoubtable Juliet Stevenson, is an example.
Like one of the characters in the novel, I think I'll now always have certain mental associations of wheat fields, farmers, tractors, and "the countryside" in general. The book's entire action takes place in the country; no London scenes here.
She is everything a narrator should be: warm, intimate voice and intonation that invite themselves into the listener's mental "space;" good at various accents; good at performing voices for a sex different than her own (men); and an intelligent phrasing and enunciation. I liked the way she handled the accent of the main narrator, Jenny/Genevieve, because unlike some other actors playing country characters, she didn't make the character seem overly naive or diminished in intelligence. Being from a rural area and having little formal education does not make one stupid or a figure of fun! In Stevenson's hands, Jenny/Genevieve always seems bright as well as sympathetic, friendly, etc.
This isn't one of those Vine/Rendell books (like say, A Sight For Sore Eyes) that affected me viscerally while reading/listening. Towards the end, I even thought, "Really, are those all of the main plot points of the book--no more?" I didn't feel that punch in the stomach and lingering sense of doom that many Vine/Rendell books supply. The plot is much simpler and more straight-forward than I expected from this author. But it works in its own, subtle way. This would definitely reward a repeat listening.
Please note that this is a first-person POV/narration, and it is sometimes shared between two main narrators, neither of which I normally care for in novels, but it works to good effect here. There are also several flashbacks to previous eras (the 1950s and 60s). Also, if you've never read a Barbara Vine novel, you should know that these books are often not detective novels or police procedurals such as the ones the author writes under the name Ruth Rendell. The Brimstone Wedding is not a mystery novel, although there are mysteries within it that characters puzzle over, nor is it a thriller or suspense novel per se. It is, rather, a tale that is suspenseful and at times disturbing (though not, in my opinion, as disturbing as other Vine/Rendell novels). Enjoy!
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