A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine: Book Review

A few months ago we went to the Science Centre in Glasgow where we spent time in the Planetarium, looking at the night sky as it appears without urban light pollution. To see the stars and planets you need a dark-adapted eye and the lights are slowly dimmed until they all come into focus.

In Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye, the narrator Faith has spent her life avoiding thinking, talking or reading about at the events that led up to her aunt’s hanging for murder. She only develops a “dark-adapted eye” very slowly when asked by a crime writer for her memories. This is psychological crime fiction, you know right from the beginning who the murderer is, but not why or how the murder was committed. It’s not even clear immediately who the victim is.

Slowly, very slowly, with lots of hints and questions about how things could have turned out differently the family relationships and events that led up to the tragedy are revealed. Because of this it’s not a quick read and I think it’s a book that could stand many re-readings, just to work out how everything ties in together and for different perspectives to become clearer. I borrowed this book from the library, but it’s one I’d like to own to delve into its secrets.

Faith and the other members of her family are all so well described and the settings too. This is a book where you can see events and people so clearly through their thoughts and emotions as much as through their actions, but their secrets are so well concealed. Vera, Faith’s aunt, prim, snobbish and obsessional is the murderer. Her brother is shocked and removes all photos of her, refusing to read the newspaper reports or go to her trial, as does Faith. Slowly, it appears that Vera has killed her half-sister, the beautiful, the perfect Eden, but how or why is not clear until near the end of the book, or at least it wasn’t clear to me. Francis, Vera’s elder son changed his name as soon as she was arrested and the younger son, Jamie is living in Italy as the book begins. Jamie has a major part in the story but he was only 6 when his mother was hanged and remembers nothing about the situation.

Eden and Vera have a love/hate relationship, which only gets worse as the years go by. I began by disliking both of them, then swinging from one to the other as Faith describes them and their relationship. In fact I was doing that all the way through this book, never quite sure what to believe. And by the end just when you think you understand it all, Vine throws everything into question yet again and the reader is left to decide just what did happen, just what was the truth. Fantastic.

6 thoughts on “A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine: Book Review

  1. “I borrowed this book from the library, but it’s one I’d like to own to delve into its secrets.”

    This is exactly what I felt! I read the book in Danish years ago, but today I own it in English. I have re-read it at least twice, but when I have closed it, I am never quite sure … Brilliantly done.


  2. Margaret – What a fine review! And the book really is wonderful. I’m so, so glad you enjoyed it : ). I agree, the ending is beautifully done, too, and the characters deftly done.


  3. OK, you have me hooked. I’ll have to see if my library has this book. I have only read one by Barbara Vine in the past, ANNA’S BOOK (has a different title on your side of the pond I think).


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