The Portobello area of West London has a rich personality - vibrant, brilliant in colour, noisy, with graffiti that approach art, bizarre and splendid. An indefinable edge to it adds a spice of danger. There is nothing safe about Portobello... Eugene Wren inherited an art gallery from his father near an arcade that now sells cashmere, handmade soaps and children's clothes. But he decided to move to a more upmarket site in Kensington Church Street. Eugene was fifty, with prematurely white hair. He was, perhaps, too secretive ...
The Portobello area of West London has a rich personality - vibrant, brilliant in colour, noisy, with graffiti that approach art, bizarre and splendid. An indefinable edge to it adds a spice of danger. There is nothing safe about Portobello... Eugene Wren inherited an art gallery from his father near an arcade that now sells cashmere, handmade soaps and children's clothes. But he decided to move to a more upmarket site in Kensington Church Street. Eugene was fifty, with prematurely white hair. He was, perhaps, too secretive for his own good. He also had an addictive personality. But he had cut back radically on his alcohol consumption and had given up cigarettes. Which was just as well, considering he was going out with a doctor. For all his good intentions, though, there was something he didn't want her to know about... On a shopping trip one day, Eugene, quite by chance, came across an envelope containing money. He picked it up. For some reason, rather than report the matter to the police, he wrote a note and stuck it up on lamppost near his house: 'Found in Chepstow Villas, a sum of money between eighty and a hundred and sixty pounds. Anyone who has lost such a sum should apply to the phone number below.' This note would link the lives of a number of very different people - each with their obsessions, problems and dreams and despairs. And through it all the hectic life of Portobello would bustle on.
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I always look forward to Ruth Rendell's "non-Wexford" novels, having started many years ago by reading "A Demon in my View", and having since then worked my way through most, if not all, of them. The main protagonists always seem to have some sort of intriguing psychological problem and, in "Portobello", Ms Rendell comes up with not one, but several! I love her style and her masterly command of the English language and, even if the plot didn't quite live up to my expectations this time, I found, as always, the author's writing compulsive and satisfying.
In "Portobello" she creates a mesmerising tale of diverse characters - from Eugene, a well-to-do art gallery owner who surprises and dismays himself with an unexpected addiction and Ella his lady-love, a GP, both of them from the higher echelons of society, to the less privileged petty thief, Lance, and his girlfriend, Gemma. The author weaves their stories into a multi-layered tale, with input from other characters as well: Lance's uncle with a very shady history and his involvement with a strange religious sect; Joel, a young man with a tragic past; and a couple more petty criminal characters as well. The story is set against the backdrop of the Portobello Road, London - an area unknown to me - but which Ms Rendell brings vibrantly to life in the novel with her detailed descriptions.
I first of all awarded this book 3 stars but, on reflection, I realise that I enjoyed it to such an extent that I feel it deserves four. It was an easy and pleasant read and long may Ms Rendell continue to produce such novels!
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