Walking to the shops one day, fifty-year-old Eugene Wren discovers an envelope on the street bulging with cash. A man plagued by a shameful addiction—and his own good intentions—Wren hatches a plan to find the money’s rightful owner. Instead of going to the police, or taking the cash for himself, he prints a notice and posts it around Portobello Road. This ill-conceived act creates a chain of events that links Wren to other Londoners—people afflicted with their own obsessions and despairs. As these volatile characters come into Wren’s life—and the life of his trusting fiancée—the consequences will change them all.
Portobello is a wonderfully complex tour de force featuring a dazzling depiction of one of London’s most intriguing neighborhoods—and the dangers beneath its newly posh veneer.
Visit the Portobello Market with Ruth Rendell
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Read an Excerpt
IT IS CALLED the Portobello Road because a long time ago a sea captain called Robert Jenkins stood in front of a committee of the House of Commons and held up his amputated ear. Spanish coast guards, he said, had boarded his ship in the Caribbean, cut off his ear, pillaged the vessel, then set it adrift. Public opinion had already been aroused by other Spanish outrages, and the Jenkins episode was the last straw to those elements in Parliament which opposed Walpole’s government. They demanded British vengeance and so began the War of Jenkins’s Ear.
In the following year, 1739, Admiral Vernon captured the city of... see more
Reading Group Guide
Walking to the Portobello Market shops in London’s Notting Hill one morning, wealthy gallery owner Eugene Wren discovers an envelope full of cash lying in the street. Rather than keep the money for himself or turn it over to the police, Wren attempts to find the owner by posting a notice around Portobello Road. This ill-conceived act sparks a chain of events that soon links Wren, a man plagued with a shameful addiction, to several other Londoners—people afflicted with their own obsessions and despairs. When these volatile characters creep into Wren’s life—and the life of his trusting fiancée—the consequences will forever change them all.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Discuss the significance of setting in the novel. How is the Portobello Road/Notting Hill area pivotal to the story?
2. How does the novel’s structure—frequent movement between different characters and points of view—help to enhance the plot? Did you feel that the different points of view were well-balanced? Did the struc see more