In “Harm Done” (1999) the recurrent theme is domestic violence. Quite early in the novel various positions are introduced during a discussion in Wexford´s own home.
Sylvia, Reg Wexford´s very conscientious daughter, works as a voluntary for “The Hide Helpline”, offering advice to women who are victims of violence in their homes. As usual, Sylvia goes out of her way to help and support strangers, but she is not quite as patient or tolerant when it comes to communicating with her own family.
Wexford assures her that the police are taking the problem very seriously through their domestic violence programme and adds, “We´re even putting in place a scheme to encourage friends and neighbours to report evidence of domestic violence.”
And this is when Dora Wexford chips in: “It sounds like the Stasi or the KGB to me… The nanny state gone mad.”
Of course the wole point is to let the reader meet different perspectives, but it is not the first time that Rendell lets Dora Wexford express very conservative attitudes and a certain scepticism of young women´s struggle for equality and independence.
For once Wexford listens to Sylvia and learns from her, however, and her advice turns out to be very useful indeed when he is involved in a case where domestic violence seems to play a role.
As a teacher of literature I know how important it is for a reader not to mix up the author and the narrator – or the author and any of the characters. So one cannot just conclude that Ruth Rendell agrees with Sylvia, with Reg or with Dora Wexford. On the other hand it is clear from several novels Rendell has written, dealing with a broad range of social issues, that this writer is concerned about (female) victims and to some extent also criminals who have suffered from social injustice, abuse etc. And always without compromising: the crime plot is first rate and keeps you engrossed until the final chapter.
No more about Ruth Rendell right now, but some years ago I held a talk about clergymen in British crime. Would you be interested in a series called “Is there a vicar around”?