Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rustication




    The past few years, I've spent my free time reading chick lit, thrillers, coming-of-ages, parenting books, comic memoirs, and the occasional diet book about becoming a vegan (which is as far as I made it down the vegan path). Some of these books were rewarding, like Bossypants and Mathilda Savitch, but most were not. After all that time feeling let down by one book after another like a hapless, lovesick twenty-something, finding Charles Palliser's Rustication felt like being rescued. The book is a gripping historical mystery set in Victorian England. After being expelled, or "rusticated," from Cambridge and learning of his father's death, the protagonist, opium-addicted Richard, returns home to find his mother and sister deeply in debt and desperately clutching to the last vestiges of propriety and their place among the genteel. They also refuse to reveal the circumstances surrounding the patriarch's passing. Even more unsettling, the community is being terrorized by someone mutilating livestock, and Richard is determined to get to the bottom of it all.The story is told through Richard's journal, which Palliser presents as a found document. Through his journal entries, Richard's secrets, as well as those of his suspicious family members and neighbors, are slowly revealed. Each turn was unexpected, and the element of surprise, along with the gothic settinga blustery marshland surrounding Richard's family's shadowy, dilapidated mansionhad me curled up next to my fireplace for a weekend, fully absorbed. When the ending came, Palliser left a single thread untied, a gratifying cliffhanger. I was left feeling deserted, undone in the best way by a novel that had courted me with its seductive plot and left me without warning, wanting more.

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