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Asta's Book

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,699 ratings  ·  247 reviews
Written by Ruth Rendell under the pen name of Barbara Vine, the diary of a lonely Danish immigrant at the turn of the century became a bestseller in England. Asta offers keen interest in life, zest for storytelling and acerbic views of humanity, as well as a mystery for subsequent generations to unravel. Walter's considerable acting skills keep the long process moving. As ...more
Paperback, 437 pages
Published 1994 by Penguin (first published January 1st 1993)
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Patrick King This was only done in the American edition (as we'd expect) because Asta is an unusual, European name primarily associated in America with the dog in …moreThis was only done in the American edition (as we'd expect) because Asta is an unusual, European name primarily associated in America with the dog in The Thin Man. Anna is the granddaughter who solves the mystery (with a little help from her friends). As Americans, publishers assume we're too stupid to want to read a book with a European name in the title. Frankly, I'd read a book with an asterisk for a title if it's by Barbara Vine. Apparently publishers don't realize that.(less)
Huck Flynn I think it's as entirely fictional as any detective mystery can be - obviously Vine has influences and inspirations like any author. Interesting that …moreI think it's as entirely fictional as any detective mystery can be - obviously Vine has influences and inspirations like any author. Interesting that she herself has some Danish blood so there may be some relevance there. A brilliant double detective story and sadly, because i later read many of the others, her best book.(less)

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Bionic Jean
Did Ruth Rendell consider the novels she wrote under the pseudonym "Barbara Vine" to be her best work? I personally think this is more than likely. Much missed by her many fans since her death in 2015, Ruth Rendell was a very prolific and highly regarded crime writer, with over sixty books to her name. She won many awards and honours, and continued to craft novel after novel, even though she increasingly had other commitments. She regularly attended the House of Lords every day, for instance, st ...more
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-challenge

In the early 1900s Rasmus Westerby moves his wife Asta and their two young boys from their native Denmark to London.

Rasmus parks his family in the middling neighborhood of Hackney and leaves for long stretches of time, trying to become a business success.

For her part Asta doesn't like Hackney, disdains English people, has little interest in her sons, and has no love for her husband - who she thinks only married her for the dowry of 5,000 kroner. As it happens Asta is pregnant again (characters
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Just About Everyone
Shelves: favorites
7/14/15: I've listened to this several times over the past few months on audio, superbly performed by Harriet Walter. As many times as I've read the book, I'm still "hearing" new sentences, it seems (I've listened to several other Vines as well during this time, and the same is true of them). Ironically, I was in the process of listening to this when Ruth Rendell was felled by a stroke in January, and another Vine when she died in May.

7/24/13: It's always interesting to get other readers' 'take'
While this book does have the clever plotting, twists and turns, I've come to expect of a Barbara Vine title, somehow it just didn't have the same force for me. Perhaps it seemed to go on too long, to have too many red herrings. Yes I did enjoy the unwinding of the diary and current day story, but it all seemed just too much story. (Or it could be me... my initial reading was quite broken up, only continuous at the end.)

I won't let this stop me from trying more Vine stories on for size as I've
A lovely, rich, often complex historical mystery/family saga of which I'm tempted to say something like 'books like this don't get written anymore'; I'm sure they do, of course, they just rarely appear on my radar. But this one did, and for that I am thankful. it's a cosy book, something to abandon yourself to, and written with the same impeccable elegance that emanates from its main characters.

The book begins as the diary of Asta, a Danish woman whose husband's work has brought their family to
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare gems of a book that I literally could not put down. Ever tried washing dishes with one hand so you could hold a book with your other hand? It's messy, but it can work.

Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine) is one of the most masterful storytellers of contemporary times. This novel is so carefully plotted, so meticulously -- and dare I say perfectly -- crafted that the sheer magnitude of what it must have taken Rendell to work out every small piece of the puzzle is just
Deborah Pickstone
Once again I try to read Ruth Rendell, this time in her guise as Barbara Vine. I wonder if there is something wrong with me? I just can't take to her writing in either personification. In this case I could not like Asta/Anna at all. I found her best selling book not credible and she came across cold, arrogant and cruel, apart from the early part of the book where she simply seemed unhappy and a bit spiteful.

Anyway, it hasn't changed my mind about the writing. I find Rendell somehow uninvolving a
Craig Monson
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was recently nudged toward this book by another Goodreader’s excellent review. Apart from its rather complicated plot(s), expanding outward through three generations of a Danish family, between its transplantation to Britain shortly after 1900 and sometime around the 1980s or ’90s, it is a book about writing, retrospective interpretation of texts, and turning words into books (with nods toward the broader, changing complexities of that enterprise, which these days seems to have less to do with ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Terribly boring and awfully hard work for a rather anticlimatic ending. Too much bleak social commentary and not enough story, which is fine but not on the fiction and entertainment shelves. Redeemed by some interesting thoughts.

Favourite quotes:

'Hope is a horrible thing, I don't know why these church people call it virtue, it is horrible because it is so often disappointed'. P.13

'Hope deferred may make the heart sick at first; later it leads only to boredom...Pleasire came later.Inquiring about
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Asta's book is classic Barbara Vine and I loved it almost as much as No Night is Too Long and A Dark Adapted Eye.

I just feel compelled to ask why on earth was Asta's name changed ??? And was some one employed to go through the whole book editing the change ? Or did American readers open the first page and then find out the name was wrong ? What a perfectly senseless thing to do...I do not believe that American Barbara Vine readers, or anyone else for that matter would not buy a book because the
Dec 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came across an old list of reading recommendations a few weeks ago and requested a few of them from the library. I love that service. I go online, find the books I'm looking for, and they deliver them to the library a couple of block away. Brilliant.

Anyway, I had long forgotten why the book was recommended, but I do know I shared a similar literary sensibility with the long ago list-provider, so I added it to the roster of requests. Kitty, you were absolutely right, it's a book worth recommend
Apr 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-dl, 2016, mystery, brit-lit
What a convoluted mess of a story this became. The speculations became endless, as did the assumptions.

“But perhaps she told Hansine…”
“This presumably refers to the fact…”
“It’s possible, you know…”
“Suppose Florence was different…”

I did a couple of word searches. The word “perhaps” appeared 126 times, and “suppose” was used 131 times.

The entire time I was reading this I was thinking “Where is this story going, and when will it ever end?”

NOTE: The story opens very promisingly and I enjoyed Chapter
Whoa, I so did not see that coming.

The first Vine book I read was The Blood Doctor and while I could figure out where the book was going, it was still compelling.

This book is great. You think you have it figured out, then you're wrong. Then you think "aha", but still no.

My only quibble is that three of the chapters were rather, well, dry. I understand why they were dry (it was trial transcripts), but still.

Awesome. Vine does a really good job with the character of Ann. The behavior fits and so
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm a person who really appreciates a complex, engrossing, multi-tiered plot filled with twists and turns and the happy prospect of thousands of pages to come. But sadly, Anna's Book seemed too long, and not in a good way. Too much time was spent on the boring and predictable story-within-a-story about the murder trial. I also was impatient with all the unrealistic hoopla over Anna's published diaries--they weren't that interesting, nor was she, or really, any of the other (too many) characters. ...more
Kay C
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am definitely a Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell fan but this is my least favorite book thus far. It was rather slow in pacing (not sure there was any). For me, the fast amount of characters were confusing to track. I completed the book and the revealing of "whodunit" was much anticipated. ...more
From September 2012 — It is 1905 and Asta Westerby and her husband Rasmus have just moved to England from Denmark with their two boys. A third child on the way, and Asta dearly hopes for a girl. Asta tells her story through a series of journals, in which she writes sporadically about various events, describing her family life; her marriage, her children, her maid, which make up her whole universe. Asta has an independent spirit and isn't necessarily cut out to be a wife and mother, but she accep ...more
Barbara H
As most of my GR Friends know, I am an avid reader of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine's books. It is a rarity that she would not delight me and fill me with admiration. This however, is one of those exceptions. It certainly is not because this is one of her earlier books (1993), for many of them have passed my inspection. I was able to continue to respect her skill in penning her thoughts and her descriptions.

My major problem with Anna's Book is that it is just too long and rambling. Because of this
Stephen Hayes
I've just finished reading Asta's Book for the second time. What prompted me to re-read it was my disappointment with The child's child, which I read last week.

On the surface, they are the same kind of book, which prompted the comparison. It is a genre that has been made popular by Robert Goddard -- a mystery in the past that has repercussions for people in the present. I found The child's child unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. I had started if with the hope of finding something as good as Asta
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You could say that I would HAVE to like this book. It's Ruth Rendell. It takes place in the UK. It starts in the Edwardian period, a historical setting I just love. And many of the characters are from Denmark. (I had a Swedish great-grandmother, so Scandinavian countries interest me.)

The main character, Asta, puts the lie to the idea that all people (especially women) in the olden days were nice, sweet, submitted willingly to their husbands, and wanted lots of children. Asta was pretty cool - in
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No Detective, Inspector, Constables or Policeman. No Attorney's, forensic experts, disputed wills or DNA tests. No psychopaths, sociopaths, serial killers or degenerates. No robbery, heist, beating, rape, homophobia or child molestation.

Just a diary, an unromantic women, an old murder and a great story.
This really is a 5 star book - I think it will be among the best books I've read this year. I shall write more in due course. ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another situation in which I wish Goodreads let you give half stars, bc this is more 3.5 stars for me than 4, but I'll go with 4 over 3 because it's Barbara Vine. Barbara Vine wrote one of my all time favorite novels, A Dark Adapted Eye. She's a master plotter. I'd teach her in an English literature class were I in that field. This book also had a miraculous plot which has turns it in you'd never see coming in a million years, involving a genealogical mystery that comes together in a gen ...more
I wish I could give this more than 3 stars, because on the whole I really enjoyed it. I was engrossed by the story and by the mystery it offered, and I loved the ending. But there were two points when the author seemed to go so far from the main story that I got bored and started questioning which story they were actually trying to tell. I hoped that by the end the incredibly long detours would make sense, but I still cannot see how the 60 page account of something the protagonist was researchin ...more
Lynn Weber
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
A thick meaty book that I didn't want to end. It's only flaw was one that unfortunately was more conspicuous as the novel drew toward its conclusion--that old mystery writer's pitfall of having her characters ignore obvious possibilities. ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire

the advantage of being the 'best mystery writer in the english speaking world' - as no less than three of the review quotes in this book tell me - is that you can persuade people to read about six chapters of a book before even giving them a hint as to what the mystery is. i can see that there is plenty of ground work laid in the beginning but if i hadn't known the author or read the praise for this book would i have read this far?

something about this book just didn't grab me. i just don't know

Kathleen Hagen
Asta’s Book, by Barbara Vine, narrated by Harriet Walter, produced by Audiogo Ltd. Downloaded from

It is 1905. Asta and her husband, Rasmus, have come to East London from Denmark with their two little boys. With Rasmus constantly away on business, Asta
keeps loneliness and isolation at bay by writing a diary. She keeps up this journal writing from 1905 until almost the time of her death in the late ‘60’s. These diaries, published over 70 years later, reveal themselves to be more than
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This was on the shelf of the house we rented in Santa Fe. When it was time to leave, I was only half-way through. Tragedy! I contemplated "accidentally" packing it, but am happy to report that I remained honest.

Thanks to the library at home, I got to finish. This is a strange, interesting book. Anna, the diary-keeper, is enigmatic, unlikeable, and frustrating. She takes long walks on Hampstead Heath, lies to her children, and bullies her maid. But hers is only half the story.

Though a grisly murd
I read the Penguin edition, which carried the British title, ASTA'S BOOK.
It presents as historical -- excerpts from diaries written by a Danish woman living in London in early 1900s. I keep wanting to know what it is based on! [a real person? real diaries?:] Seems impossible to invent all that, though that seems to be something many novelists are doing these days -writing fiction parading as history.

I enjoyed reading it, and trying to imagine living in that time and place. Interesting asides on
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much. The main character is a young Danish woman transplanted to London at the turn of the century. She doesn't much like her husband and begins to unburden herself in a diary she writes in Danish over a 6o year span. The book is fascinating because it combines an intimate view of the woman's life journey unfolding through two world wars and raising her family, and the mystery of the diary's missing pages which explain the most important event in her life and that of her ...more
M Yeazel
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Isabel
Recommended to M by: Just read a review
An excellent book to read, especially if you like diaries. Even better to listen to because there are so many Danish phrases and sentences that you have to get translated, while the way she reads it you can understand it within the context of the rest of the paragraphs. Some of the sayings are translated.

It's the story of a niece telling the story of her Aunt and her grandma Asta's years in England. It has a couple of mysteries, and a missing person and a death or two.

My favorite book in 2010.
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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

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