This is an atmospheric and beautifully written contemporary novel set in Bosham, West Sussex. Nora, an accomplished cellist, returns to her childhood home in Bosham to live with her elderly mother Ada. At first it’s unclear why Nora has returned and if she plans to stay. Ada is a realistic portrayal of a once glamorous woman drifting in and out of her memories, yet determined to remain independent and in control of her daughter. Their relationship is at times petulant and painful, rarely slipping into sentiment, which made it believable.
Jane Rusbridge weaves the past, both ancient and recent, into the present by creating images for the reader using all senses. At times I could almost smell the approaching tide and hear the screech of rooks. Her writing is reminiscent of the early novels from Penelope Lively and the poetic narrative style of Helen Dunmore. Reading this it did feel as if every sentence had been a labour of love for the author.
Nora rescues and nurses a fledgling rook with the help of Harry, a local handyman and artist. Harry is a quiet, understated character throughout the story, yet he is the solid, dependable hero who always seems to appear for Nora and Ada whenever disaster strikes. He’s almost an echo of the noble, Saxon warriors who haunt the beginning and end of the book.
The legend and myths of the Bosham church are also woven into the novel, along with theories on the Bayeux tapestry and the grave of Harold II (famously killed at the Battle of Hastings). A pushy TV documentary producer, who initially seems to help Nora bury the ghost of an influential ex-lover, stirs up and divides the local community with his obsession to dig up the church and open ancient tombs in search of the truth. Triggering Ada to remember the original excavation by her famous archeologist husband and his tragic death.
Gently and sensitively the tightly held secrets of both Nora and Ada become exposed, almost as if we are archeologists prising them loose from the pages. We learn the poignant significance of Rook in Nora’s life and understand why saving him was so important to her. And we realise why she abandoned her music and previous life so dramatically. We also learn the truth about Ada and her past, which she never fully shares with Nora.
There are no neat endings to any of the story arcs in this novel. Answers are given, yet more questions are posed for the reader to explore. You feel as if the characters are continuing beyond the final pages, they still have lives to live even if you’re no longer party to what happens next. I loved this approach, as this is realistic writing – there can’t always be nice, tidy happy endings in life. But this writing style may not be to everyone’s tastes. I finished reading the end chapters with tears in my eyes and even a week later scenes and emotions from the book still linger in my thoughts.
In passing reference to that other current event LitPig awards ROOK a GOLD LITPIG (Excellent rating).
Rook is the second novel by Jane Rusbridge. I would highly recommend this as a subtle, intelligent read. Now I have a copy of her first book ‘The Devil’s Music’ and will post a review once read.
To read more about Jane Rusbridge and how to buy Rook of The Devil's Music click here.