Friday, 6 December 2013

Rook, by Jane Rusbridge

Such a beautiful cover though...
Another Broadway Book Club choice, Rook opens on a promisingly bloodthirsty scene from the battle of Hastings- Edith Swanneck is required to identify the maimed and decapitated body of King Harold before it is even cold.  'Dual thread narratives are quite a commonly used convention', I'm thinking, 'Don't jump to any conclusions yet, it could be interesting'.

Wooshing forward to the present day, don't get too excited, that's the last you'll hear of oldentimes. The rest of the novel tells the story of Nora, a professional Cellist who has returned from travelling the World to her hometown of Bosworth, Suffolk for undisclosed reasons- presumably to face her past, come to terms with something and/or settle a score.  She interacts with assorted villagers, does some rigorous running, has a few passive aggressive arguments with her increasingly frail and progressively senile mother, Ada and adopts a near-death baby rook from a ditch.  One day a young, handsome documentary maker turns up in Bosworth with the intention of filming a documentary on the local church, supposed resting place of King Cnut's illegitimate, drowned and mysteriously unnamed daughter.

What I found most frustrating about this book was the author's distracting use of language.  The book felt like an exercise in "Evoking a Sense of Place" in a Creative Writing course.  Too much long-winded, pretentious description (lots of light, lots of evocative sounds), too many metaphors and adverbs, too much poetic lingering  on unimportant details.  Some might call that beautiful writing, but I just found it really really irritating.  I get that sometimes a place can be as much of a character as the people that populate it, I get that some novels are light on plot but carried by good writing and I get that sometimes novels are like life and sometimes life is boring.  I've got absolutely nothing against flowery prose or against thorough description, but it has to serve a purpose. It needs to endear a character, it has to repulse or reveal.  It's not enough to be just do it for the sake of it.

I also felt like there were far too many superfluous or sometimes downright confusing characters that looks like they were going to infect some life into the plot, but then simply melted away or were forgotten.  The landlord, the Italian ice cream man boyfriend of the Mother, the pregnant hippie and her Greek husband, the guy who buys the books and donates was all too much and in the end I gave up trying to remember who was who..

I'd like to say the pace picks up half way through and it becomes a tense domestic episode, but that would be a lie.  I was thoroughly disappointed with this novel, and reading it became a bit of a chore.  I really wanted to read of the Anglo-Saxon warriors, the horrific battles and the quietly forgotten aftermath that shaped the future of the part of the world that the author seems to love so much, but was left instead with a musician having an emotional breakdown in a town that had just opened a new cafe.

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