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10 thoughts on “Asta's Book

  1. says:

    Did Ruth Rendell consider the novels she wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine to be her best work I personally think this is 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, stating firmly that if she were to be awarded the honour of CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire she intended to work for it rather than allowing it to be a sinecure Yet, astonishingly, the stories kept coming readable, dependable crime mysteries, even when she was in her 80 s I have read many of Ruth Rendell s novels and short stories over the years, including some of the hugely popular Wexford series of twenty four books These are cosy mysteries, solid workaday reads, though some have of an edge, and could be termed thrillers Some stand alone novels are extremely downbeat with an almost vicious element She was adept at getting inside the mind of the perpetrator of a crime, later writing psychological murder novels rather than mysteries She wrote about those who are socially isolated, or those afflicted by mental illness or anxiety problems The novels show sharp insight, feel very realistic, and always convey a great sense of place, down to the smallest detail If you happen to know the area where one of her books is set, you will not be able to fault her description her novels are all meticulously researched.But the novels she wrote as Barbara Vine , which number fourteen in all, have something else They have an extra quality, which although I hesitate to use the word in case it seems judgemental about her main oeuvre by comparison is literary The writing is lifted above the ordinary the plots are nuanced and complex There is evidence of a formidable amount of solid historical research not presented in a dry format, but spun into a compelling read Often this is conveyed by a character in the present researching into their background There is yet depth in the exploration of character and relationships Inevitably there is an element of mystery, and intrigue, or of story layered upon story, involving deep history or flashback this is trademark Barbara Vine Sometimes it is not clear whether there was a crime or not, and the suggestion often occurs late in the book, when the reader has become absorbed in the reality of the book s world, and perhaps even forgotten that it is genre fiction.Asta s Book is no exception Published in 1993, as the sixth Barbara Vine novel, it has a contemporary setting, with flashbacks to 1905 included The eponymous book is the diary of the main character, Asta, used as a clever literary device Reading the novel, one thus has a dual sense of another country, another and different culture, and another time as well as the present.In the historically earlier parts of the tale, the 25 year old Asta Westerby and her two sons have moved to Hackney, in East London, from their home in Denmark Asta has a husband, Rasmus, who does not seem to be in evidence, but is away on business He also seems not to be greatly missed by Asta, although Asta is again expecting Perhaps Asta is dissembling slightly when she claims never to have loved Rasmus She now believes that he married her mostly for her dowry, writing, I suppose I should be thankful Rasmus isn t a Mahometan, otherwise I m sure he d be finding another wife to marry for 5,000 kroner Asta feels lonely and alienated in a culture and community she dislikes, feeling superior to many around her Derisively she records, When I went out this morning a woman asked me if there were polar bears in the streets of Copenhagen Asta resents what she views as a small minded and provincial community, and sees no need to adapt her ways As a Danish women she wears her wedding ring on her right hand, even though the local people look askance at her, clearly suspecting she is an unmarried mother Yet Asta is contemptuous of such ignorance, and too proud to do anything to clarify her position Asta has no need of anyone else She even treats her servant, Hansine, the closest she ever had to a friend, with contempt Because Hansine is illiterate, Asta regards her as little better than a farm animal Through her candidly disdainful attitude in her diaries, we see that Asta has no respect for Hansine, and also has a very cold and indifferent demeanour towards her two sons Asta always prefers her own company, in her own house, with its Danish furniture and ornaments, and her books Her own view of her life is often bleak, Hope is a horrible thing I don t know why these church people call it a virtue, it is horrible because it s so often disappointed Asta is not a likeable character, but we are intrigued by her, through reading her diary which eventually is to cover 62 years Asta s diary was never meant for others eyes but we learn from the modern part of the book, that some of it had been discovered and translated Her daughter, Swanhild known as Swanny had arranged publication seventy years after the first diary had been written, and it then became an overnight sensation It was a bestseller, achieving cult status as a fascinating domestic record of Edwardian times and Swanny achieved star status herself, basking in the reflected glory The diary had been kept up by Asta until 1967, although part of it was now missing some of it had perhaps been destroyed by Asta herself, and not all of what existed had yet been translated.In the present day part of the novel, we meet the viewpoint character, Ann, a professional researcher, who is far personable rather shy and introverted Swanny has also died, and Ann Eastbrook is her niece, and also Asta s granddaughter To her great surprise she has inherited the diaries, and at the beginning of the story is not sure what to do with them.Soon after the funeral for Swanny, an old acquaintance of Ann s approaches her The two have a very involved history of jealousies, the jarring notes adding frisson and an ironic humour to the plot This friend cum enemy of Ann s, Cary, is a television producer, who looks to Ann as a possible source of information She happens to be making a documentary film about the unsolved murder, in 1905, of a Lizzie Roper, also of her mother, and of the disappearance of her infant daughter Would Asta s book from the time reveal any information which would help Lizzie Roper had lived only a few streets away from Asta at the time.The novel now centres around Asta s diaries, which had gripped the public s imagination as they revealed a forgotten world Ann decides to do a bit of literary investigation, and her reading of the diaries does seem to reveal significant gaps Are there clues to the unsolved mystery in the details Perhaps they hold the key to the unsolved murders or others or possibly no murders at all What of the missing child or perhaps there was no missing child Had she been abducted Or herself murdered Was she still alive under another identity Why was Asta s daughter, Swanny, who had been born in 1905, a lifelong favourite of her mother There are secrets and lies Asta teases, and others suffer There are misunderstandings Some family secrets and hidden crimes have unintended consequences.The denouement of the book is devious and clever, and clues are fed to the reader piece by cunning piece The buried secrets of nearly a century before are gradually revealed, and the puzzle begins to make sense But not all the threads will necessarily be tied into the plot Some become unravelled again they are deceptions, blind alleys Asta s granddaughter and the reader alike will be baffled and intrigued until the last page This is a very satisfying read, with much cultural and historical richness and a complex multi layered plot A double detective story, it is full of depth It effectively conveys Danish domesticity and claustrophobia, with much period detail, the whole given authenticity set against world events It then graduates into the later parts, depicting the Edwardian love of sensational crime and lurid melodrama The parts near the end which depict the newspaper reports of a famous Edwardian murder trial, are engrossing in themselves The tension and thrills crank up as the novel nears its conclusion, and it is so skilfully constructed that the suspense does not let up for one moment, until all is revealed The clues are there for those who can weave through such a tangled web, but there are many red herrings planted along the way Murder and madness, shocks and senility, dark deeds and dementia, misalliance and misidentity, mystery and missing persons we have it all in this riveting read Note As an interesting side note, some of the copies of Asta s Book are alternatively titled Anna s Book In the United States, Ruth Rendell s American publisher was apparently worried that the name Asta would remind potential readers of the dog from the Thin Man films


  2. says:

    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 in this book have no concept of birth control , and is desperate to have a girl So when little Swanhild Swanny is born in 1905, Asta is thrilled A few years later another daughter, Marie, comes along and the family is complete Asta is a conventional and conservative woman of her time but she s well educated and loves to read especially Charles Dickens in Danish To assauge some of the loneliness Asta feels in the alien environs of England, she keeps a diary In the journal, Asta talks about many things daily activities, thoughts, feelings, people children, husband, friends, relatives, servants, neighbors, acquaintances, etc , food, clothes, homes, furniture, ornaments, parties, gossip, newspaper stories, and so on.anything that pops into her head Asta s diary entries spanning than sixty years are interspersed throughout the book, which goes back and forth between past and present.After Asta s death in her eighties her oldest daughter Swanny finds the diaries Swanny has the first couple of volumes translated from Danish to English and publishes them, as a sort of lark To Swanny s surprise the diaries become wildly popular a worldwide phenomenon In time, additional volumes of the diary are published and Swanny, as the editor, becomes a celebrity in her own right There are meetings with publishers, book signings, public appearances, photos in magazines, and world travel After Swanny dies, her niece Ann Marie s daughter a professional researcher takes over as editor of the remaining diaries As the story unfolds a couple of mysteries are revealed Swanny s conundrum When Asta is widowed she moves in with Swanny, who has a rich successful husband and a lovely large house Asta loves to socialize and for her own 83rd birthday arranges a lavish chocolate party at Swanny s home On the day of the party Swanny receives an anonymous letter that says..You are not your mother s child or your father s They got you from somewhere when their own one died Swanny, who always knew her father didn t like her, intuitively believes this She confronts her mother, who or less admits Swanny is not her natural born child, but refuses to say anything ..ever Swanny is devastated and haunted by this revelation, and desperately tries to discover her origins When Swanny and then Ann get custody of the diaries, they study them for clues to Swanny s origin but several vital pages are missing For Swanny the enigma of her parentage has severe psychological consequences The Roper murder In her 1905 diary Asta briefly mentions that her maid, Hansine, has become acquainted with Florence the servant of a family called the Ropers Hansine asks permission to invite her new friend Florence to tea, and Asta agrees Soon afterward Lizzie Roper is murdered and her toddler daughter Edith disappears Lizzie s husband, Alfred Roper, is accused of murdering his wife and the trial is avidly followed by the public Jump to the present and true crime stories are very popular A producer named Cary is planning to make a movie about the old Roper case She asks Ann the current editor of the Asta diaries for a peek at the yet unpublished diaries to see if the Ropers are mentioned again This leads to a loose collaboration between Cary and Ann as they look for information about the Roper affair Asta s Book is both a novel of psychological suspense and the story of Asta Westerby and her family Asta s story is quite compelling As Rasmus s fortunes rise and fall she goes from lower middle class to prosperity to struggling once again, before moving in with Swanny I enjoyed the diary entries about Asta s fashionable clothes, Danish foods blekage and kransekage , household trappings, love for Swanny, crush on her driver, and so on I also liked the description of the dollhouse Rasmus made for Ann, called Padanaram This masterpiece took years to complete and was a faithful reproduction of the Westerby s posh home at the time I would have loved to have this dollhouse as a child LOL The mystery portion of the story is also quite engaging I wanted to know about Swanny s heritage and was intrigued by the various theories proposed by different characters I was also eager to discover whether Alfred Roper was guilty or innocent of murdering his wife Asta s Book published in 1993 has the vibe of an old fashioned mystery It moves slowly and thoughtfully, contains provacative red herrings, and has no graphic violence except for one slit throat The book would appeal to a wide array of readers, including fans of literary novels, psychological suspense stories, and traditional mysteries Highly recommended.You can follow my review at


  3. says:

    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 on a book it s almost as thought they read a different book Ironically, some of the things others had a problem with are the very things that so impress me about this book.10 29 09 approximate This is my favorite novel by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine, and at this point just about my favorite novel, period I recently finished reading it for the eleventh time I much prefer the book s British title, ASTA S BOOK, for a character s name definitely influences how you envision them.A famous diary that may provide clues to a brutal murder, a present day narrative by the diarist s grand daughter, and a trial transcript from these elements Rendell weaves together a spellbinding narrative about the search for identity In doing so she creates a world and characters that I hate to leave behind, as she also does in A DARK ADAPTED EYE, A FATAL INVERSION, THE HOUSE OF STAIRS, and THE BRIMSTONE WEDDING, which is why I ve re read these books so many times It s also a very interesting look at the relationships between women mothers and daughters, sisters, aunts and nieces.7 05 10 Time for my annual re reading 11 21 10 I took it very, very slowly, savoring a few pages most nights before bed, after I d put aside whatever my current main book was Was this the 12th or 13th reading, or the 14th I can t honestly say But I still turned the pages as eagerly as I did the first time.12 08 11 Just finished re reading my favorite book by my favorite author I ve had a bad case of reader s block for the past 2 months, only managed 2 books apiece in October and November I hoped that re reading ASTA S BOOK would help me out of the reading doldrums I resisted temptation a couple of weeks ago, only reading the opening page, but last week decided Oh well, what the heck And I did get lost in its spell once again.12 03 12 Just as good the 15th time And a welcome relief from some of the gloomy stuff I d been trying to read.


  4. says:

    um livro escrito por Ruth Rendell e pouco mais h para dizer Uma escritora de policiais sempre originais e surpreendentes pouco dada descri o de assass nios sangrentos, cometidos por psicopatas, e mais aos deslizes criminais das pessoas comuns.N o dou as cinco estrelas apenas porque as reservo para aqueles livros que em momento algum me aborrecem e O Di rio de Asta tem cerca de meia d zia de p ginas de um julgamento, com os respetivos discursos dos advogados, assunto que me enfada muito.


  5. says:

    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 any 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 London Asta s account starts in 1905, and extracts from her diaries are intercut with the life of her granddaughter, Ann, in the late 1980s By this point, Asta s diaries have been turned into a bestselling series of books, found and published by her eldest daughter, Ann s aunt, Swanny Yet only now does Ann discover the diaries may hold the key to an unsolved murder Questions also emerge around one character s parentage.Asta s Book is absorbing, but quietly so it encourages leisurely yet attentive reading, rather than the frantic page turning that seems compulsory for mysteries now This was a delightful change of pace for me.TinyLetter Twitter Instagram Tumblr


  6. says:

    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 Vine stories on for size as I ve been very pleased with the others I ve read I also seem to be a bit below the average in my view of this one so.take it for what it s worth.


  7. says:

    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 amazing And Rendell s other strong suit is her uncanny insight into the psychology of her characters They may not all be likeable, but at least we understand their motivations.This was a quick read for me, but the story unfolded slowly I was not immediately riveted by the first chapter interested, yes, but the pacing I thought was a bit slow There were passages I at first dismissed as irrelevant, but boy was I wrong I should know by now that nothing in a Ruth Rendell novel is irrelevant Every word is weighted Every word counts.Also, there are a lot of characters to keep straight, and several times I had to flip back through already read pages to remind myself of who was who However, by the surprising and satisfying final chapter, I understood and appreciated why each of these many characters was included and was awed by how each one, no matter how minor, was nothing less than essential to the story.Of the story itself, I ll say little other than it contains lost then found diaries, a disappeared child, a murdered woman, and the narrative alternates between turn of the century England and modern England When I read the last line earlier this evening, I closed the book, then closed my eyes, exhaled, and experienced my favorite part of ending a great book that moment of silence after the last word is read, that moment when the complete story settles in And then the wishing that I could read it again for the first time.


  8. says:

    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 and cold and drizzly.


  9. says:

    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 words on paper It may be most satisfying for those interested in writing and reading for those who chiefly prefer snappy whodunits, perhaps less so.The reader reads several decades of the diaries that constitute Asta s Book, salted, as it later turns out, with clues that at first are not read as clues in a grisly murder and in family mysteries that only emerge as mysteries for later generations Readers also read about Asta s offspring re reading, translating, and editing Asta s words for the wider literary world, in which she becomes something of a phenomenon Asta s children and grandchildren also begin to question what she might have been saying between the lines not to mention on half a dozen missing pages, mysteriously ripped out of an early volume, at a critical moment The temporal and generational shifts, sometimes in mid chapter, require paying than indolent attention to avoid confusion One may hear about certain events multiple times e.g., Mogen s death as different generations of Asta s family cover the same ground In some but not all cases this begins to make sense after the grisly murder intrudes on the plot about of the way through the book and comes to dominate much of the rest.Vine s research seems meticulous Thanks to Google Maps, one could even follow family removals from one address to another and, in some cases, on walks from one significant location or crime scene to another Late Victorian interiors look right and the challenges of living in them in the days before modern conveniences sound convincing Sometimes Vine s historical recreation is almost too good she includes, for example, a full transcription of a 50 page in the large print edition 1950s monograph, in determinedly academic prose, about the grisly murder and its prosecution, in which no detail is too insignificant to be included Faced with that level of writerly authenticity, I began reading only every other paragraph.It was not a book that I couldn t put down which made sorting it all out a bit challenging But once the most careful readers from later generations of Asta s family began to interpret and make sense of what Asta had been saying between the lines than half a century before, it became engaging 3.5 , rounded up


  10. says:

    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 boredomPleasire came later.Inquiring about its provenance came much later p.38 1988 In our society, the extended family fast disappearing, one sees one s cousins only at funerals and then very likely fails to recognise them p.74 Love hasn t much chance of survival in a relationship where one person is always telling the other one what to do and bullying and preaching p 113


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