The Crocodile Bird, by Ruth Rendell, published 1993.
About a month or two ago, a former teacher of mine, now an author, Kevin Polman, recommended the novel The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell to me. I checked it out from my local library, but it took the maximum of 2 renewals for me to complete it. I am a bit disappointed in how slowly I read this novel because it was intriguing. I’ll admit I felt the beginning was a bit slow and I occasionally had a hard time figuring out if the main protagonist, Liza, was narrating the story in the present day to her boyfriend, Sean, or if the author had switched back to a flashback. However, it must not have messed me up too much, as every time I did sit down to read the book I would look up and see the time had flown by and realized I had read a good 30-50 pages without even trying.
The general plot of the story is that a mother and daughter lived in a gatehouse beside a secluded mansion away from traffic and civilization. The mother, Eve, wanted to shelter her daughter from all the evils of the world and of men. Eve also had a love affair with the house, the Shrove, which she managed the day-to-day operations and cleaning. The Shrove was generally vacant, as the master, Jonathan Tobias, did not stay there often. He would occasionally come by to visit though. Over time there were three tragedies that occurred at the Shrove and the book begins the night before Eve is arrested. The details of Eve’s possible connection to the crimes are revealed through Liza telling her story to Sean, who she ran to after her mother forced her to flee. Sean helps introduce Liza to the outside world. He taught her how to use money, find a job, etc. Liza never went to school, but she had been illegally homeschooled. Therefore, she was a novice to life.
Like mother like daughter. Eve wanted Liza to be just like her, almost like her clone, but she stipulates that she wants Liza to be without pain. Eve does not elaborate on what that pain is, but rather Ruth Rendell slowly paints a picture of Eve’s life and her interactions with men throughout it. But before her thought process is revealed to the audience, Eve’s determination to shelter Liza could easily be considered overkill. She never let Liza leave the gatehouse or Shrove grounds. Liza couldn’t even go to school, interact with other humans (other than a few landscape people, the milkman, Jonathan, and Bruno), or develop her own sense of self. Sean points out that her mother handicapped her for real life situations, but Liza seems unaffected. She accepts it as a part of her who she is and said she hasn’t known any other way. Her love for her mother is deep and detached at the same time. She keeps track of her mother’s trial throughout. In a way, it is a beautiful love story between a mother and daughter, but on the other hand, it is twisted and sociopathic. The amount of control Eve had over Liza is not healthy. She did not treat Liza like a human, but rather as a personal toy she needed to keep around. Liza should have gone to school, experienced childhood with other kids, and learn to make her own decisions, even if she did get hurt.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and would be interested in reading more by Ruth Rendell. She is a prolific mystery writer and if her other novels are as enthralling as this one, I know I will enjoy them too.