At her tall, elegant House of Stairs in London W11, Cosette lavished hospitality on a bohemian crowd of drifters and hangers-on, mostly careless young people dazed on life, love and drugs. Widowed, lonely and extremely rich, Cosette had been looking for a lover. But the others -- what had they wanted?
- From the 1989 Penguin paperback edition
- Angel Award for Fiction, 1988
- Penguin Readers, 1994 (see below)
- Chivers Audiobook, 1990. Read by Jane Asher.
- The background experiences that lend this story much of its authentic period colour were discussed by Rendell in her interview with John Mortimer (published in his book Character Parts in 1986): "I've got to know some strange characters from all the rooming houses in London. There are quite a lot of them, friends and relatives of people I met in the late sixties. Yes. Some of them are really quite strange."
- It is tempting (although unsubstantiated) to draw a parallel between Elizabeth Vetch's dismissive attitude to the "cheap, sexy romantic adventure stories" she "churns out" and Rendell's attitude to her own early books, which stick far more rigorously to the conventional detective/thriller format than her later, more mature work.
- An abridged version of this book (just 50-odd pages) was published in the Penguin Readers series, aimed at people learning English as a second language and retold by Stephen Waller. It features illustrations by Ian Andrew.
- The Bronzino portrait referred to throughout the novel can be seen here. (Thanks to Vickie Britton for digging this up!)
September 1, 1988
"Vine has not only produced a quietly smouldering suspense novel but also presents an accurately atmospheric portrayal of London in the heady sixties. Literally unputdownable."
- Time Out
As well as boasting a wealth of detail on everything from Huntington's Chorea to the novels of Henry James, The House Of Stairs creates a portrait of the sixties which is far more evocative than the books Rendell actually wrote during that decade. The characters of Cosette and Elizabeth are brillliantly evoked, and the ending offers a striking combination of closure and open-ended possibility. Along with King Solomon's Carpet, my favourite Vine title (which is not to say the others are far behind).