My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rook, Jane Rusbridge’s second novel, tells the story of Nora, once an internationally famous cellist, whose life has fallen apart. I’m not going to reveal the whole of the story; to do so would be to deprive a reader of the pleasure of discovering what really happened, revising assumptions about Nora’s life and how she came to be what she is, and where she is.
It’s an emotionally moving story, sometimes almost unbearable. I read it twice, finding meanings and significance on the second reading that I hadn’t found the first time.
The characters are portrayed so well. Each of them is distinct, with his or her own traits. The character list is long, but re-encountering them, we never have any doubts about who they are. The male characters are particularly well described, although Jane Rusbridge has left them ambiguous, as enigmas. Andy, a damaged character in her earlier novel The Devil’s Music, speaks and acts just how a man like that would, not that the reader understands him completely. The two men, Harry and Jonny, in Nora’s life in Rook are gradually revealed for what they are, and we gradually develop our understanding, although they’re also left as enigmas, even at the end. Nora finds an injured rook, nurses him back to life, and, as Rook, he has a well-developed character of his own. Rook is a metaphor himself, imprinting himself on Nora, and we learn about Nora’s need for Rook.
Nora lives with her mother, Ada, another enigmatic character nearing the end of her life, and the conflicts between mother and daughter illuminate the characters of both of them.
Jane Rusbridge knows how much to spell out and how much to leave unexplained, to be revealed or guessed at later. The modern-day story is paralleled by accounts of the death of a young girl, possibly the illegitimate, much loved, daughter of Cnut, Danish King of England from 1016. She was drowned in Bosham Creek in 1020, aged eight and was buried in Bosham Church, where the story is set. The sense of place is so strong. Even if you’ve never been to that part of the coast, the creeks and marshes are vividly present, the sea a constant presence, and a constant menace.
Jonny is a TV documentary producer, and the eleventh century events are brought to life by his attempts to create a film that explores the possibility that King Harold, slain on the battlefield in 1066, is also buried in Bosham church. The way that Jonny attempts to manipulate everyone to achieve his aim also reveals his character.
Rook is a wonderful story. It’s not an easy read, but it is so rewarding.