Category Archives: Jane Rusbridge

Rook – Jane Rusbridge

One of the kinds of books I love to read the most (although I have only discovered in the last few years this is the case) are ones set in the British countryside. I am rather bored by books set in London, admittedly less so if they happen to be somewhere between 1850 and 1910. Whilst I know modern London is full of all walks of life, which is marvellous to read about, head out of the capital for a few hours and in the towns and villages some of the best stories can be found. This is one of the reasons I finally picked up Jane Rusbridge’s second novel Rook which I had heard would be right up my street for this very reason. In towns and villages secrets are much harder to keep buried.

Bloomsbury, paperback, 2013, fiction, 352 pages, borrowed from the library

Nora has fled from a love affair gone wrong and the international circuit of touring with her cello, back to her childhood home of Creek House in Bosham, Sussex to teach the locals. Whilst old childhood friends have welcomed her back the same cannot be said for her mother Ada. However things look set to change in Bosham as a TV documentary company, run by the suave Jonny, want to write about the possible body of King Cnut’s daughter buried below the church, along with the possibility of King Harold himself. Yet as a medieval secret of the town is about to be unburied after so long, so could be the secrets Nora and Ada have kept from each other.

Mother daughter relationships, along with all dysfunctional family set ups, are a prime subject for fiction. Nora and Ada’s estranged relationship puzzles and perplexes whilst it also intrigues; just what secrets have both women kept from each other, why did the death of Brian (Ada’s husband) along with Felicity (Nora’s sister) leaving the UK make them more estranged and not bring them together? How long can two women stay in the same place avoiding each other, one with her box of memories (and lots of cocktails, which seem a coping mechanism for getting older as well as keeping secrets locked away), the other with her cello and adopted Rook called, erm, Rook before the cracks finally fracture?

As we read on it is not only the secrets hidden under the floor boards of the local church that mirror Nora and Ada’s struggle with their own histories, the landscape also mirrors them too. It could actually be said that the main character in Rook is Sussex itself, its atmosphere comes out of every page and is often a metaphor for what is going on inside the characters heads.

The mud at low tide is alive with soft-lipped sucks and pops, the creek shrunk to a ribbon in the distance. Nora’s wellingtons slop around her calves as she steps from one hump of eel grass to another, arms spread to counterbalance any slip of the silt. Far off by the sluice gate twenty or thirty swans are clustered, startling white against the bladder-wrack and mud. Every limpid arch of neck and fan of wing displays an orchestrated grace, reminding Nora of her mother.

Occasionally though the sense of place and its relationship with the plot can cloud things. Dangers of flooding, the muddy coastline, the danger of private farmlands, etc are all wonderfully evoked – the prose in Rook is stunning – yet sometimes at the cost of explanations. I would sometimes be unsure if I was with Nora or with Ada, and occasionally we have gone into a flashback in the change of a paragraph which needs to be re-read before you realise what Rusbridge has done. I also on occasion found myself wishing that Rusbridge had written in the voice of Nora or Ada or alternated between the two of them. This may have lost some of the admirable subtleties Rusbridge allows the reader to expand upon themselves, but with all the mysteries Nora and Ada are harbouring themselves and from each other, they are prone to being slight enigma’s themselves. I interestingly found I knew Rook the most as a character and was fascinated learning all about how intelligent these birds are. I used to have a pet duck (super brainy birds) I now want a pet Rook, have I ever mentioned that before I was a book spotter I was a bird watcher? Anyway…

As I mentioned above, I love a book which has a real sense of place and in particular those which look at the British countryside. Therefore Rook couldn’t really be more ideal. Through Nora’s return to Bosham we have that sense we all know of nostalgia mixed with terror and edginess that going back to your hometown can bring. Through Jonny, who is a bit of a so and so, we see the attitudes to ‘the outsider’ which no matter how many times people say is a mentality that doesn’t exist in this forward thinking day and age, does. It is the sense of the atmosphere and nature of Sussex along with the definition of what makes a community (both the good and the bad) which seems to be at the very heart of Rook.

Around the polished table are people she has known since childhood. Miss Macleod is there, head down, reading something. Ted, who, now his son has taken over the day-to-day running of Manor Farm, has time on his hands so sits on many committees and is governor of the village primary school. George gives her a nod, jowls wobbling like wattles. Patricia, Ted’s wife and locally famous for her bridge suppers, flutters her fingers in a wave. Steve, the vicar, gives her a wink, and points to the empty chair beside him. A single father of three, Steve is not what most people expect in a vicar.

Using a ‘natural’ metaphor, which seems apt for this book particularly, I would compare Rook to a small brook (or a creek, all the more apt with Creek House) which slowly meanders to a larger stream which twists and turns into a river which builds up speed before it roars out to the sea. As we read on the pace, urgency and rawness become quicker and louder. I didn’t see the ending coming at all and it hits hard. In many ways Rook is a book about secrets and coping, or indeed not, with what life throws at us and how it changes our relationships with those around us. It is also a love letter to Sussex where Jane Rusbridge lives. It is beautifully written novel from an author I think more of us should be reading.

Who else has read Rook and what did you make of it? Have any of you read Jane’s debut The Devil’s Music as I am keen to give that a whirl. Oh and don’t forget you can find out more about Jane and have a nosey through her bookshelves on the latest Other People’s Bookshelves here.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing, Jane Rusbridge, Review

Other People’s Bookshelves #38; Jane Rusbridge

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we head into the home of author Jane Rusbridge, a prime example of why we should #ReadBritish2014 as you will see when I review her second novel Rook tomorrow. Before all that though let us sit down with Jane, have some of the gorgeous cupcakes she has made us and have a nosey through her shelves, first though a little more about her…

I live and work in coastal West Sussex and am married to a farmer. We have five grown up children. I’ve been a teacher most of my life, but went back to university to do a part-time English degree when my youngest child started school. Basically I just stayed there for 18 years – firstly to complete an MA in Creative Writing after my degree, and then to teach. My writing took off about 10 years ago when my husband bought me a shed so that I had somewhere to write. I painted it blue. I have two novels published by Bloomsbury, The Devil’s Music and Rook, a Guardian Readers’ Book of the Year.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

When I don’t finish a book it will go to charity or the library, otherwise I’m a keeper. Just not necessarily on shelves. I am more of a various-piles-here-and-there person when it comes to books. My only system is that if I read something on an ereader – which I do sometimes, but only for convenience – if it’s good, I will buy the *real* book too. Novels need rereading. My second or third reading is usually more from the point of view of a writer, to see how an author has handled a particular technique, or plot structure, or ending … Ebooks are not at all pleasing to revisit and, worse, they seem to disappear from memory, don’t you find? Pfft! just like that, author, title and all. Real books keep you company in a way that ebooks don’t.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I am totally organised – it just doesn’t look like it! New books go straight into the ‘piano’ room (never touch the piano these days, except to put books on it), in one of several piles: new fiction, research, friends’ books, classics to revisit – that sort of thing. With fiction, when it’s read once it goes on the book shelves made by my other half, in alphabetical order (vaguely). Poetry books go into a small (rather impractical) bookcase in the living room. Books about writing and books connected with my previous novels are on shelves in my writing room. Currently I’m researching for novel 3, and all my research books are therefore lying everywhere about the house. In piles.

'Rook' bookshelf

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

This may be a mis-memory, but I think it was The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis, with money I got after having no fillings at the dentist. I was lucky as a child and had many books bought for me. (Also, I did not have a filling until I was 19. Not many people know that). The copy I have is a hardback and in a box of books in the attic, now that our children are grown-up. I’m glad you reminded me, because now my grandson has arrived I need to get those books down. I also might need to make use of my husband’s shelf building skills again.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

We used to have a copy of The Joy of Sex, which we hid from the children when they were small. They obviously used to thoroughly investigate all the hiding places in our room however, because when the recent TV programme based on the book was on I learned that at least one of them came across it. The only other book I keep out of sight I couldn’t possibly tell you about, otherwise I’d have kill you!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I treasure my father’s very old medical books. He was 57 when I was born, quite old for a dad, and he died on the night of the ’87 hurricane – so, a long time ago. He was passionate about the value of books, and read to me a lot when I was child.

Precious books my father's medical books

Also, an old illustrated copy of The Dawnchild by Beryl Irving, which was a book I used to read when I went to stay at my grandparents when I was little, while my mother and father were on one of their trips back to Scotland. I loved staying there. Like you, I was given this book when I was older, and it’s the associations which make it precious.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

A J Cronin’s Country Doctor. My mother watched Doctor Finlay’s Casebook avidly, but my father had told me the book was the Real Thing. I didn’t ever read it!

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To be honest, these days I tend to buy the books I want to read. I spend more on books than almost anything else. I daren’t add up my annual expenditure, so don’t ask.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Where Zeus became Man by Sabine Ivanovas, a book of photographs and notes about Cretan shepherds. It’s for research.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh goodness – where to start? The next book I’m planning to buy is The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They might notice that I read mainly contemporary novels, and my non-fiction reading is rather uneven: masses of books on Harold II and rooks; books on knots and rope; books on Crete. Their fingers might itch to tidy up my book heaps. I hope they realise I love books and reading.

research & TBR piles

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A huge thanks to Jane for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Check back on Monday for a review of her second novel Rook. In the meantime if you would like to find out more about Jane visit her website here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jane’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Filed under Jane Rusbridge, Other People's Bookshelves