Friday, 27 December 2013

Rustication by Charles Palliser

Published 2014 Set in 1863/4







As I reached the hall, suddenly there was Effie. She appeared as astonished to see me as I was to encounter her. And, moreover, she had obviously been out in the rain. We stood facing each other in the dim light. She looked as if she were about to attend an evening party. She wore her hair up and was in a dark green velvet gown I’m sure I had never seen before. It left her shoulders perfectly bare and was cut so low that it emphasised her bosom in the most striking manner. There were raindrops running down her naked shoulders and onto her front and into the top of her bodice. She has become a very handsome girl – tall, black hair, large grey eyes, regular features.



observations: This is the perfect post-Christmas read – if you have a few hours to spare and a comfortable sofa, then draw the curtains, light the fire, prepare some suitable snacks, and dive into this book. Those familiar with the works of Charles Palliser will know what to expect – a Victorian setting, clergymen, Cathedral towns, an unreliable narrator and all kinds of Gothic goings-on. Young Richard Shenstone has come home from Cambridge unexpectedly early – the clue is in the title – and finds his mother and sister have been forced by his father’s death to move to a dark miserable house in a lonely village. They are obviously not thrilled by his arrival, and they’ll be even less pleased when they find out what’s behind it. But someone is planning something rather dramatic. Who can it be? What is going on?

The action takes place between mid-December and mid-January, but there isn’t much seasonal cheer – Christmas is miserable, and the big centrepiece Ball, long looked forward to, ends in tears, and worse. All this is highly enjoyable (there are faint echoes of Lemony Snicket and the Unfortunate Events, so unrelieved are the bad things) and often very funny. Richard’s narration is extremely well-done – he is a horrid callow youth, obsessed with sex, but strangely endearing. But he’s obviously not telling us everything, and it’s clear his judgement can’t be trusted… Meanwhile there are anonymous letters in the village (warning: compared with the rest of the book, these are quite bizarrely unpleasant, containing very strong language) and violent attacks on animals.

There are quite a few loose ends (deliberately) left open, which some readers don’t like. I was more concerned by the fact that – as sometimes happens with this kind of book – you don’t know when the revelations have stopped: is there going to be one last twist? In the very finest books, the ultimate solution is so satisfying that you know you can settle with it. This doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it is still an excellent, sour read.

The picture, Young Girl in a Green Dress, is by John White Alexander and came from the Athenaeum website.


6 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, it does sound like a curl-up-in-front-of-the-fire kind of novel. And Victorian sorts of settings and characters just lend themselves don't they to that sort of pessimistic point of view. Not sure I'll give it a go, as I have to admit to being quite a coward about reading novels where there are attacks on animals. It's one of my 'things.' But it certainly sounds atmospheric.

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    1. We all have our sticking points don't we? A few human murders might not worry us at all, but animals.... and actually if you feel like that, you really shouldn't read this one. It didn't bother me, but then, the language in the anonymous notes in the book did...

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  2. Well this does sound very interesting, but I don't know that I will add it to my list for a while (only because I hope I stop buying books for a few months).

    Funny that the topic of animal attacks came up. I have made similar comments lately on some books, and I have been aware that it seems silly to be bothered by animal killings more than humans; but then, if you are reading crime fiction you expect someone to die, but not a cat or a dog. I really do know it is silly.

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    1. Yes it is funny isn't - I know exactly what you and Margot mean. We all react in different ways.

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  3. Not one to tempt me to be honest, though I did enjoy The Lemony Snickett film, when the children were a bit younger.

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    1. Yes, Lemony Snicket was a big favourite in our house. I think perhaps you're right, Charles Palliser not for you....

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