Out in paperback today is Jane Rusbridge's novel Rook. In case you missed the book when it was published last year, my thoughts and impressions are reiterated below, and you can find my 'At the writing desk' interview with Jane here.
" ... the past is multilayered and shifting ... the passage of time and the surfacing of untold stories will reveal new histories, changing what was previously thought to be 'true'."
Those lines from Rook are spoken with reference to the received version of history, but are just as applicable to the book itself. Set on the Sussex coast in the ancient village of Bosham, it is an exquisitely sensitive story of love and loss and of how the past seeps into the present.
Nora is a cellist who has abandoned her international career to return to her family home by the sea. She occupies her days with a bit of desultory teaching and keeping an eye on her elderly mother Ada who seems to live increasingly in a world of her own where her memories keep her company. While Ada barely acknowledges her daughter's existence, it's a fledgling rook Nora finds half-dead in a ditch which becomes both her protector and her solace as she nurses him back to strength, their bond intensifying over the hot months of a troubled summer.
As Nora takes to the creek path at dawn each day, running to keep her sadness at bay and reconcile herself with what she has lost - for it's clear that fate has both given and taken away - so village life goes on around her. Bosham church is the focus of attention of a television producer who wants to make a documentary about King Canute's drowned daughter, believed to be buried in the church itself. Nora's late father, an archaeologist, had worked on the grave of this Saxon princess, and Jonny consults Nora as a source of accurate local knowledge, but theories as to the true identity of the occupants of the tombs under the chancel arch divide the people of the parish, and any exhumation must be the subject of a vote. A personal story of buried truths is played out alongside a wider one reaching back into legend and forward to conviction and belief.
Spanning six months from early summer to winter, the narrative circles and spirals, shifts and settles like a flock of birds in a wheeling swoop before coming to rest. Its shape and texture lets the many layers of the characters' histories rise gradually to the surface, and every scene uses clear-sighted observation to raise the grain of its fabric to almost tangibly detailed effect. It is an affecting work, closely woven, beautifully tempered, and it bears out the promise of Jane's first novel, The Devil's Music, in fine style; it's a superb piece of writing.