No Night Is Too Long by Barbara Vine

(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

“My life is a dull one,” says Tim Cornish.

Set in Alaska and Suffolk, this story is written in three first-person narrations, the first and longest of which is the memoir-confession of Tim Cornish. Tim, a would-be novelist of twenty-four, has just received his master’s degree. He travels to Alaska for a nature-exploration cruise with his somewhat older male lover, Ivo, a paleontologist who will be lecturing during the cruise. Tim has been living with and supported by Ivo, but, since Ivo’s recent declaration of love, Tim has tired of him. Ashore in Juneau while Ivo is elsewhere, Tim meets Isabel, an unhappily married, somewhat older woman, with whom Tim immediately falls in love, and he promises to meet her in Seattle in ten days after breaking up with Ivo (who he pretends is a woman). When Tim tells Ivo their relationship is over, Ivo refuses to accept it. On an excursion to an uninhabited island, the two men tussle; Tim strikes Ivo, who then strikes his head against a tree and moves no more. Leaving Ivo for dead, Tim flees the island and rejoins the cruise, saying nothing of what has happened. He helps himself to the cash and credit card Ivo left behind and flies to Seattle, hoping to find Isabel, but his guilt causes him to abandon that plan and he returns to the UK, where he settles into an unchallenging job in his hometown and lives alone in his parents’ house. As there has been no word of a police inquiry, no report of the finding of Ivo’s body, Tim seems to have committed the perfect crime, though he is increasingly haunted by what he has done, believing he sees Ivo everywhere. Then he begins to receive a series of anonymous letters, each of which describes the island ordeal—and rescue—of a castaway. Someone knows what he did.

Isabel’s own brief memoir, in the form of a letter of sorts to Ivo, and a concluding letter to his wife by a schoolboy friend of Tim’s who becomes Tim’s solicitor, complete the book, which explores questions of sexual identity, fidelity, and guilt.

I had to look up half-hunter = pocket watch; geode = geological secondary structures which occur in certain sedimentary and volcanic rocks.

She uses the term ‘part of the gay scene’ oddly to mean a way of talking rather than places.

Ok, so the protagonist is going to creative writing classes but would anyone, ever, write: But I felt as Orpheus must have when pursued by Maenads?

There’s a vivid sense of place.

The twist towards the end takes a while before you put the pieces together.

What a superb form of revenge – to send so much material to a fax machine that it devours several rolls of paper.

It’s about obsession, with sexual passion supposedly its linchpin. Yet the characters are as chilly as the Alaskan seascape in which much of its action takes place. Rendell is not an author one associates with coyness, yet the sexual acts, straight and gay alike, are described through the standard evasions of women’s magazine fiction: ‘Her back arched and her body reached for me and she wasn’t silent any more, her gasps – or mine, they were indistinguishable – were as eloquent as the rushing water.’

It’s been accused of being homophobic: the true homosexual is murdererd which enables the bisexual boyfriend to live happy ever after with his girlfriend.

Quotations:

“Without me, without me,
Everyday’s misery.
But with me – am I wrong?
No night is too long!”
“Why do you always wear black?”
She delighted me with her answer, the correct, the only, answer. “I’m in mourning for my life. I’m unhappy.”
“Lean on me,” someone says in Jane Austen to a woman he scarcely knows, and there’s no question but that she will, that she takes it for granted.”
“Ivo had grown more and more like one of those characters in his books who are always groaning about their miserable fate in helplessly loving someone unworthy of their love. Maugham never says much about what that’s like for the poor old unworthy object. I could have told him. It’s not exactly uplifting for the self-image.”

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