Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell

An illiterate housekeeper’s resentment of the privileged family she serves boils over into a murderous rage.

Judgement in Stone was turned into an incredible movie called La Ceremonie by Claude Chabrol, starring Sandrine Bonnaire as Eunice, the “stone” of the title, and the marvelous Isabelle Huppert as Joan, the local postmistress who fans the flames of Eunice’s anger. This is yet another case of a film adaptation that is truthful to the book, but that can also stand on its own.

Judgement in Stone is an intricately structured book that lays out its entire plot in the first sentence: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.” Rendell’s technique gives the sense of reportage, without resulting to clunky devices such as simulating psychotherapy transcripts or excerpting fictional books supposedly written on the subject. Like A Dark-Adapted Eye (written by Rendell as Barbara Vine), this book feels like it’s a history of real events–it’s like reading true crime but nobody’s been exploited.

Rendell returns to Eunice’s illiteracy throughout the book, making the woman’s deficiency more than just an excuse or a plot device. She explores the way that the lack of language isolated Eunice, and it’s hard not to take her side against the meddling, extroverted Coverdales, who have no idea that she can’t read. As always, Rendell’s characterizations are spot-on and insightful.

It’s too bad that genre fiction gets so stigmatized, because it will keep readers of “serious” fiction from experiencing one of the best writers working today. Though I have to admit I haven’t been a fan of her Inspector Wexford novels, but that’s because I don’t like recurring characters. Though I do like trilogies and series. If anyone can explain me to myself, I’d be greatly appreciative.

10 thoughts on “Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell”

  1. Beautiful review. I was introduced to Rendell by a friend of mine a couple of months ago. I have read from doon with death as of now but I now want to read a book not from the Wexford series. Can you give me any recommendations?

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