A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986)

1986 Viking hardback SUMMARY
Barbara Vine embarks on a labyrinthine journey to the heart of one family . . . Set in the respectable middle-class countryside of Essex soon after the Second World War, A Dark-Adapted Eye traces tensions between Vera and her sister, Eden.
- From the 1986 Viking hardback edition


  • Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award, 1986


  • BBC Television, 1994
  • Penguin Audiobook, 06/01/1994. Read by Sophie Ward.
  • This novel has obvious antecedents in the Ruth Rendell short story 'The Orchard Walls', published in the 1985 collection The New Girl Friend. Both have as their narrator a teenage girl who is evacuated from London during the Second World War to stay with rural relatives, and both draw their narrative line from the contrast between a promiscuous younger woman (Ella in the story, Eden in the novel), a more censurious older relative (Mrs Thorn/Vera), and the romanticised outlook of the narrator.

  • The fictional criminologist Georgina Hallam-Saul, who is cited in several places throughout the book for her writings on the Hillyard case, has also been used as a device by Rendell in several other short stories, including 1982's 'A Case Of Coincidence' (from The Fever Tree and the Wexford short story 'When The Wedding Was Over' (from Means Of Evil, 1979).

  • Although visually impressive, the TV adaptation was forced to abandon much of the ambiguity which gives the original novel its power.

  • In his 2000 memoir On Writing, Stephen King cites the book for its "brilliant" use of flashbacks, a technique he generally dislikes.

March 1, 1986



Dark adaptation: a condition of vision brought about progressively by remaining in complete darkness for a considerable period, and characterised by progressive increase in retinal sensitivity. A dark-adapted eye is an eye in which dark adaptation has taken place. - James Drever, A Dictionary of Psychology

"A modern novel with the Victorian virtues of a carefully devised plot unfolded for the reader with the most cunning art."
- Julian Symons, Sunday Times

Vine's first work skilfully establishes several features that would become common in her work -- the quest for identity, the use of multiple narrative sources, the frequent shifts backwards and forwards in time -- without entirely losing the emphasis on murder and mystery that existing Rendell fans craved. The portrait of World War II society is especially striking, the large cast of characters is skilfully delineated, and the novel repays repeated readings amply.

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