One of Ruth Rendell's best. Writing as Barbara Vine, Rendell masterfully brings together a variety of characters as they reveal their part in a murder that encompasses the past, present and future. In the beginning of the story, we know a murder has been committed. The rest of the book shows how this came about. The house is called the "house of stairs" because the house is 5 stories and has 106 stairs. Each floor has a bedroom or living space that different people move in and out of. Cosette, the owner of the house allows room for whoever wants to live there. The story evokes the 1970's; a time when people felt free to live in others' houses, smoked pot with their wine just about every day; and naively believed that others had the same good intentions as they did. At times, Cosette has no idea who's living in her house. When Bell moves in, she chooses to live on the top floor where she can easily hide. It is Bell's inner darkness that sets in motion the tragic events. An excellent psychological suspense book, "The House of Stairs" was hard to put down.
Who is the sad, reflective narrator and what mysterious illness does she suffer from? What is the strange hold that the tall, dark woman named Bell has over her, and whatever happened at the carefully described House of Stairs in London that sent Bell to prison? The answers are gradually revealed as the intricate knots of this mystery are untied.
The narrator of the story is a middle-aged novelist named Elizabeth Vetch who, ever since she learned of her grim heritage at age fourteen, has lived under the threat of inheriting the fatal disease known as Huntington's chorea, which she refers to as "the terror and the bore." Years before, during the late '60s and early '70s, she and Bell and several other vibrant people lived in the House of Stairs, owned by Elizabeth's recently widowed, newly Bohemian aunt Cosette. The story begins with Elizabeth's chance sighting of Bell; someone whom Elizabeth hasn't seen in fourteen years.
Remembering their past friendship, Elizabeth feels compelled to understand her own reawakened emotions, as well as the events that initiated her and Bell's parting and caused both Cosette and Elizabeth untold pain. Despite "all the terrible things" that passed between them, Elizabeth makes overtures to rekindle their friendship, with terrifying results...
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; although, the story being told entirely in flashbacks was slightly confusing to me. I was so eager to know what happened, that being pulled into a flashback scene was at times a little annoying. I still would give The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine - who is actually Ruth Rendell - an A+!