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The House of Stairs

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,669 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
The House of Stairs - an unputdownable crime classic from bestselling author Barbara Vine

Lizzie hasn't seen her old friend, Bell, for some fourteen years, but when she spots her from a taxi in a London street she jumps out and pursues her despite 'all the terrible things' that passed between them. As Lizzie reveals those events, little by little, the women rekindle their f
Paperback, 281 pages
Published 1988 by Penguin
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Out of print. This is my favorite Barbara Vine novel. Incredible structure, with a perfect amount of foreshadowing. Narrator's voice is pitch perfect throughout. This book is worth reading more than once, as I just have, taking advantage of the fact that it is now available in ebook format.

I have placed this book on my shelf of "books-about-books" because Rendell (here under her pseudonym) borrows her main story line, events that are recalled, from "The Wings of the Dove" by Henry James. In fact
Josephine (Jo)
A most intriguing book. Beautifully written as I have come to expect by Ms Vine (aka Ruth Rendell).
I love her use of the English language, her grammar is perfect and she uses some lovely unusual words that you do not hear very often any more. I was fascinated by Bell; she was abrupt to the point of rudeness and a consummate liar, the reason for which we find out later in the book. Elizabeth is in my opinion a little gullible, she believes Bell and gets the blame for her wrong-doings. Cosette is
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
This was one of the first three Barbara Vine novels. I'd been an avid fan of Ruth Rendell since my early teens (even before she came to our school to chat to us in the sixth form common room - she was a friend of our form teacher). When I found out she'd written three novels under another name, I was incensed. Why hadn't anyone told me? I devoured all three books immediately, and loved them - the daily commute from Colchester to Liverpool Street had never been so enjoyable. The books have been i ...more
Dec 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Maria, Merilee,
Recommended to Barbara by: Teresa
Shelves: mystery
I am back to the same dilemma, choosing the appropriate rating.It seems to me that works of fine, literary merit should stand apart from those of a more untried worth. There is no debate in my estimation, that Barbara Vine is a skilled, even brilliant author; but this novel was dark, often plodding and very depressing. I liked it least of those I have read by Vine. So here I am with an internal dispute. Do I rate this book in the same class as someone who has slim talent and grinds out new popul ...more
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: if you enjoy the Art of Good Storytelling
Recommended to Wayne by: Vine's Rendells

This did not read at all like a thriller, or what is usually considered a "thriller".Character, and clever storytelling techniques were as much to be savoured as the plot.
And some people complain about the number of characters in a Russian novel!!!!
Here they are all tumbling out in the early chapters, names galore..."and who might you be ??" I was continually asking myself.

Not only Characters but Father is being constantly shunted backwards and forwards.And YES, we know so-and-so is a
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Even an average Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell book is better than most books. This is one of the best so it is very good indeed. Like most of the books Rendell has written under the Vine pen name, it is more concerned with the psychological aspects of a crime. There is no real whodunit here, the murderer is named at the outset, but the identity of the victim is not revealed until near the end. Rendell is not concerned with making you love her characters; she is more interested in motivations. Lizzie ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Moonlight Reader
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The banality of evil. Shocking.
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in London; "The Wings of the Dove"; Huntington's chorea
Splendid psychological/suspense novel! in my Rendell/Vine Top 5. This book sent me to the web to look up Bronzino's portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi and to the bookstore for James' "Wings of the Dove." Vivid portrait of hedonistic mod 1960s London. Bell is one of many female sociopaths in Rendell's works, and I think one of the best. Is this Rendell's only novel featuring a lesbian relationship? ("No Night Too Long" and "Chimney-Sweeper's Boy" both feature gay/bi; I can't think of any other off ...more
Jayne Charles
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Distinctly average, I thought. I started well, with the narrator pursuing a mystery woman through the streets of London, but it all got rather tedious when we got started on reminiscing about the house of the book's title, lesbianism and the narrator's medical background. Yawn. I guessed the 'twist' too. I tend to dislike Vine's books about bohemian types, and this fits right into that category.
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-british
What would you do if your aunt was making marriage she shouldn't be making? What would you do if you saw a murderer out of jail? Read this and find out!
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes contemporary mysteries
Recommended to Mary by: Library Book Sale
Who is the sad, reflective narrator and what mysterious illness does she suffer from? What is the strange hold that the tall, dark woman named Bell has over her, and whatever happened at the carefully described House of Stairs in London that sent Bell to prison? The answers are gradually revealed as the intricate knots of this mystery are untied.

The narrator of the story is a middle-aged novelist named Elizabeth Vetch who, ever since she learned of her grim heritage at age fourteen, has lived u
Sep 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of my favorite - and most frequently re-read - Vines. My last re-read was Summer 2006, and I'm feeling it 'call' to me. Rendell has called this her "Henry James novel."

7/04/11: I didn't re-read it when I made the above comment, probably two years ago, but I am re-reading it now.

7/07/11: This novel has a very leisurely pace, which works perfectly in its favor. One of Vine/Rendell's hallmarks as a writer is her extraordinary ability to to go back and forth in time within the space of a page or
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This is really 3.5 stars.

I don't really like trying to write spoiler-free reviews of mysteries, so I'll just keep this brief and say that the vast majority of this book was great. Vine builds up the tension wonderfully and writes Lizzie, Cosette, and Bell as fully formed people, with quirks and inconsistencies and nuance. The "mystery" is not really mysterious, as Vine references Wings of the Dove often enough for the reader to figure out that it is crucial. I wasn't disappointed in this, howeve
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Angie Walters
Although the ending of this was absolutely frustrating because of Vine's frustratingly passive character, the book as a whole was terrific. Vine/Rendell has a knack for giving her first person narrators major character flaws--some of which they're aware of, though not all--which always makes for an interesting, though frequently frustrating read. Elizabeth in Stairs is a great narrator because she allows herself to be taken along for the ride, however awful the ride might end (she even "churns o ...more
Jan 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I adore Ruth Rendell. I really do. But...

This book took me forever to read. In this first person narrative, the main character recalls some years of her tragic life. The reader is told very early on that there is a murder and who the murderer is and strongly hints that it involves an open window at great height but leaves unanswered until the end just who and how.

And yet the tragedy is something quite other. The tragedy is the threat of Huntington's chorea.

This would have been a more compelling
Gila Gila
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Twice I thought I'd sussed out the 2 central mysteries buried in the House of Stairs - ha! Wrong and wrong and enjoyably so. A marvelous read if you're up for an intriguing psychological thriller that takes its time, digging deeper for the motivations of the heart than shocking with physical violence. Particularly strong on the myriad of possible close female to female connections, with mother replacements, torch carrying crushes, false friendships and true bonds all playing out in the life of t ...more
May 20, 2014 added it
So here's a question. If you work at some terrible, terrible job teaching English while you're trying to learn enough French for a real job, and your boss, who likes to keep you there on site so that she can feel like she's getting her money's worth even when she doesn't have a lot of clients lined up, schedules you for like a lesson at 8h30, then one from 11h30 to 13h30, and then a last one at the very end of the day before the office closes, so that you're trapped on site all day with not much ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction, 2013
Vine/Rendell creates a creeping sense of dread as the narrative continues through its chronological complexities. The narrator, Elizabeth, is recalling events that occurred more than a decade and a half ago, and the question of her reliability is never wholly resolved. She certainly withholds information from the reader; some of it she eventually releases, some of it she doesn't. And she gets some key things wrong; again, she has become aware over time of some of her mistakes and misinterpretati ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2009-books
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Fatal Inversion is one of my favourite books and I keep reading Barbara Vine's work in the hope of finding something that matches up to it. So far I've been disappointed. This was just boring, I felt like I spent half my life reading it. (It was actually only a couple of days!)

Defeldre Anne-catherine
Comme souvent, Ruth Rendell nous offre un roman aux débuts un peu lent qui gagne soudainement en intensité pour finir par être étouffant... Probablement après "L'été de Trapellune" le plus noir et le plus marquant de ses livres... Des personnages ni noirs ni blancs, tout en nuances et en mystères... Laisse un léger goût amer... âmes sensibles (peut-être) s'abstenir
Kafuna Masinde
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Too clever cold suspense,good plot....then there is the undertones of philosophical instruction...and who did not begin by loving bell and then quite decidedly disliking her in the end....i died on stilleto fatalis....ha!!!!
Alasdair Craig
Feb 09, 2013 rated it liked it
A heavy, tough read: Set in alternating time periods where a future tragedy is hinted at in the one, and complicated reminisces are described in the other. Starts off slowly, but ends off powerfully and dramatically.
Lynn Kearney
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lest we forget, as the newer Ruth Rendell books disappoint, that she was a great writer, especially writing as Barbara Vine, and this may be the best of the lot. I first read it many years ago, but it does not lose its power after several decades. Bell and Cosette are both fine literary creations.
Harry Tomos
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
love Ruth Rendell and love Barbara Vine a darkened Ruth Rendell, story was good, couple of twists and it ends as life would rather than someone writing a story....if that makes sense....
I like Ruth Rendell writing as Ruth Rendell much better than those under the name of Baraba Vine.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I don't know what to read but do not want to risk a bad read, I read a Vine novel. Her writing is superb, her plots intriguing and her finger was always firmly on the pulse of the times she was writing about. While her characters are never likable, they are always compelling and rich. The House of Stairs delivers on all of the Vine fronts.
Martine Bailey
The copy I read is part of a Ruth Rendell triple-decker, fronted by A Dark Adapted Eye and A Fatal Inversion. Though not quite of the masterly heights of those two novels, The House of Stairs is an incisive study of the late 1960s and its hedonism, moral shallowness and cult of youth. Cosette is a middle-aged innocent: plump, gentle, vain and good, whose fatal flaw is a desire to experience the pleasures of the young. When she is suddenly left rich and widowed, she buys a shabby Georgian house i ...more
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, book-group
I finished it and then (skim) read it again before reviewing, to spot the hints and red herrings. It's difficult to review this in any detailed way because the whole thing hinges on not giving away any spoilers; (almost) all is revealed in the last 20 pages.

This is the third Barbara Vine I've read, and I've come to see they are a little bit formulaic: an introverted loner of a narrator, telling the story in the form of flashbacks interspersed with episodes set in the present. The murder is usual
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  • The Tree of Hands
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
More about Barbara Vine...
“Staying thin wasn’t just a losing battle with Cosette but a series of skirmishes in which about fifty percent of the time her side won.” 0 likes
“They come about through confusing the two kinds of truth telling: the declaration of opinion and principle and the recounting of history.” 0 likes
More quotes…