The Jealous One–Celia Fremlin–1964 used.
I wouldn’t leave the bathtub until I’d finished reading. I wouldn’t have a conversation with the husband, until the last chapters were gobbled up. I wouldn’t pay attention to anything else around me, even though I was at a pricey bed and breakfast for a two day romantic extravaganza. I needed to finish this damn book! I’d not felt that way for quite some time–nor have I had the unbroken time to indulge. My husband wonderfully let me be, my skin didn’t wrinkle too much, and afterward, I could enjoy the burning fireplace, nibble on gourmet snacks all the more contentedly because I’d just read a damn fine book.
Everything is oh so normal in Celia Fremlin’s world. It’s a world of the London suburbs, errant teenagers, gossipy neighbors, and contented marriages. At least that’s how Rosamond had gazed upon her life until Lindy moved next door. Initially looked upon as dumpy with tired ugly furniture, Lindy morphed into a swan, vivacious, witty, solicitous, and attractive. To Rosamond’s husband Geoffrey, that is. The little inside jokes between Rosamund and Geoffrey began to slip away as she watches her husband fall for all of Lindy’s mannerisms, whims, and likes. At first, just neighbors, in time Lindy was stopping over every night, visiting with Geoffrey’s elderly mother when the couple would visit on Sundays, in short, seemingly attempting to take Rosamond’s place–at least in Rosamond’s eyes, Geoffrey is completely oblivious.
And what does Rosamund do to combat this behavior? Nothing. God forbid she appear as though a jealous wife. No, not her. She will not be put out, complaining, demanding, or negative towards Lindy so that Geoffrey looks badly upon her, rather than Lindy. She will bear with fortitude the little nasty barbs couched in sugar, the usurping of affection of her mother-in-law, and the obviously smitten Geoffrey’s praising of Lindy. Even when she is wracked with fever, she will not allow anyone to realize that she’s not up to par—she will not have Lindy’s next form of attack take on needling her for using illness as a way to keep her husband at her side.
The book begins thusly:
‘Rosamond would never have believed that so confused a dream could yet so vivid. There had been no sense of struggle, for her savagely pushing hands had seemed to meet with no resistance, as is the way of dreams. The blind rage had seemed simply to disintegrate, to become a wild wind blowing a whirling panorama of stars in a black sky, a throbbing of mighty sound, as of waves crashing with frightful nearness, And there in the thunderous centre of it all, had been Lindy’s hated, beautiful face, hurtling away into the darkness. Lindy’s face, ugly and terrified at last!–the dream–Rosamond had registered with terrible dream-glee; and even in the very moment of waking, the glee remained–a dreadful, pitiless exaltation. “I’ve won! I’ve won!”
Right after this awakening Geoffrey excitedly rushes in, exclaiming that Lindy has disappeared! Rosamond’s head is killing her, the fever is still upon her, in short, she’s still got the ‘flu that she came down with earlier in the day–except, it’s not the right day. That was yesterday, today is quite another thing, she’s confused and blended both days together. She can’t exactly remember what she did after the luncheon she’d attended at a friend’s house, when Lindy announced she had to leave early to go visit a friend who needed help—the friend being Rosamond’s mother-in-law. A fact that had Rosamond finally at the end of her tether. As days follow and still no Lindy, Rosamund begins to wonder if something dire happened to Lindy, and if she was somehow responsible.
The amazing aspect of this book is the way the author presents Rosamond’s point of view–the reader is aware of her small faults but nonetheless becomes prejudiced against Lindy due to Rosamond’s reactions. As a matter of fact I kept exclaiming to my husband, ‘when is that bitch going to get killed!!?’ Lindy’s behavior as presented by Rosamond was driving me to distraction. Lindy is manipulative, nasty. However, Rosamond is a fool, in my eyes as well, for not taking on Lindy’s shenanigans to begin with, and allowing her to run ragged over her marriage and world. Things start to tilt in another direction after we hear from Lindy’s sister’s estranged husband, and some other outside voices, whose point of view tie some things together that were apparent all along, under the surface.
Brilliantly written, incredibly suspenseful to almost the last page, this is one book that I am confident belongs on my list of Best 100 Mysteries of All Time.