Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Strong Sense of Place

I just read an early Ruth Rendell novel, From Doon with Death. Rendell is famous for bringing a new level of psychological sophistication to the characters in mystery novels, a technique she used in blatant rebellion against the Agatha Christie style of cozy mystery.

What I was most struck by in Rendell's writing, however, was her tireless attention to the experience of scene. By this I mean that the reader always knows what it's like to be in the place where the characters are. It's done through descriptions of the five senses, of course, but as applied to details that might not seem to a lesser author to be worth relating.

Part of Rendell's understanding of human psychology, I guess, is the realization that we all notice the oddest things about our surroundings, even when we're in the middle of something important.

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