Review: Rustication by Charles Palliser

December 9, 2013 Mystery/Suspense, Review, W.W. Norton & Company 3

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0393088723
  • Source: Publisher

It is the winter 1863. Seventeen year old Richard Shenstone has been suspended from Cambridge amid a cloud of suspicion. He seeks temporary solace in a crumbling old mansion currently inhabited by his mother and sister, Effie, now impoverished after his father’s death.  They hoped that Richard would be their salvation, continuing at the university and finding a lucrative job following. Yet when he reveals his addition to opium (among other addictions), their hopes are shattered.

The family “reunion” is less than loving, twisted and dysfunctional, to say the least.  Both sides keep secrets from one another: Richard holds back the truth about his “rustication” from the University and his mother and sister hide the truth about his father’s death and the subsequent actions that resulted in them losing everything.  Through Richard’s journals, the reader is eventually given answers about what happened at Cambridge and, slowly, as Richard discovers them, uncovers secrets about his now-deceased father’s actions.

When a series of graphic and disturbing letters are sent to Richard’s neighbors as well as his own family, he is immediately found suspect.  Adding to the horror are a series of brutal attacks against farm animals, their bodies literally ripped open and defamed. Despite Richard’s attempts to clear his name, a shroud of guilt consumes him. Neighbors indicate that he is seen walking around late at night, an act which he adamantly denies. His own family refuses to stand behind him, instead acknowledging his strange and unexplainable behavior.

What makes Rustication a truly outstanding novel are all of the “unknowns.” Richard is undeniably one of the most unreliable narrators I have come across. He’s addicted to opium and has a lustful desire for young girls.  It is only from his eyes, his viewpoint that readers get a glimpse of what is transpiring. A young man who has obviously grown used to being well-off, Richard is certain that someone will rescue him, both from his transgressions at Cambridge but his less than admirable actions now that he has returned home.

In Rustication, Palliser has created a truly phenomenal Gothic novel that you just don’t see anymore. Full of twists and turns, even when you think them impossible, flows throughout this brilliantly written novel.  While the characters are anything but likable, the world that Palliser creates in his prose, the intrigue he builds with each written word, is what will compel readers to devour this great novel.  Highly, highly recommended.

Note: There are aspects of this novel that are quite crude and graphic. They are not liberal in nature,  a necessary evil which allows readers a glimpse inside the depravity that is young Richard Shenstone.


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