Tangled Web UK Review September 1998
File Updated: 31/03/00
A Sight for Sore Eyes A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell
hbk out September 98 Published by Hutchinson at 16.99
A Sight For Sore Eyes is several stories, told in parallel. Each story has its significance to the whole, and gradually, they converge on the main protagonists lives. This, like many of Rendell' s psychological stories, is profoundly disturbing. Her fascination with the nature of obsession brings her to explore some distinctly uncomfortable concepts and perceptions in A Sight For Sore Eyes. She makes a clear distinction between love and obsession, and, rather sadly, her characters seem in the main to refute the notion that love can be enduring.
From the outset, the story conveys the brooding anticipation of a gathering storm. We are alerted to the future unhappiness of the first couple we meet by the appearance of 'the worm in the bud' - cruel words disguised by a gentle voice.
Teddy Brex is a beautiful but soulless man; the description of his childhood reads like a case study from Michael Rutter's text on Maternal Deprivation. Teddy is neglected, unloved and ignored, until finally, as a defence mechanism, he switches his emotions off. Teddy feels no fear, no loneliness, but neither can he empathise nor feel real love. The object of his obsession, the lovely Francine, is smothered by a stepmother besieged by hysterical notions of evil waiting to destroy her and, by excluding her from the world, she brings Francine closer to the terrible fate which is being forged in the increasingly alien landscape of Teddy's mind.
The intensely claustrophobic atmosphere of the book, and Teddy's rationalisations and justifications of his increasingly bizarre and cruel behaviour, are reminiscent of John Fowles's, The Collector, but Rendell manages to preserve the innocence of the girl, even through Teddy's most monstrous excesses.
Rendell' s bleak view of humanity may be depressing, but it is always convincing. Although drawn into this cold, manipulative world unwillingly, one is compelled to read on. There is inevitability to the tragedy of A Sight for Sore Eyes, but Rendell keeps her reader captive with the consummate skill of her storytelling and the enticement of the unexpected.

( Margaret Murphy - author of Desire of the Moth & mistress of the psychological suspence novel)