I am currently researching my coursework for English Literature. Since this book is not a widely studied work, and the topic not widely discussed, I am having trouble finding context surrounding the novel specifically and also attitudes to mental illness in general. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I think that you would have to examine some of the media and culture of the time period in order to fully be able to assess how Rendell's work is a reflection of mental illness at the time. Part of this might lie in the fact that there was not a complete understanding about pathological behavior in the 1980s. There were advances made in the field of psychology during the time period, but not as much as now. If the premise of Rendell's work now was posited, namely that two people in love had to prove their love by killing a person, we would be very quick to sense the mental unbalance that was present. In the 1980s though, this was seen as not necessarily unhealthy, but more with a spectre of allure and mystery, almost as if someone who would enter into such a domain is dark and mysterious. In the modern setting, I think (hope) that we would tear the veneer of it and understand the rather glaring conditions present. The view of mental illness in the 1980s was more of an arbitrary condition, whereby those who were mentally ill were "sick" and the perception of institutionalization was quickly attached. The notion that there are wide degrees of mental illness present is something that we have a better feel of today that was not as present at the time of Rendell's writing.