Palliser juxtaposes Gothic melodrama, a metafictional frame, a vividly unreliable narrator, and a roiling mix of mysteries in this provocative Victorian thriller, his first novel since 1999’s The Unburied. Earthier in milieu and more rollicking in tone than The Unburied or his classic, The Quincunx, Rustication showcases the author’s originality, boldness, and range. Expelled from Cambridge in disgrace in 1863, 17-year-old Richard Shenstone returns to remote Thurchester and a family hiding in its own secrets. His father has died, tainted by scandal no one will explain; his mother and sister, now penniless, cling to a decaying mansion. Along with lubricious fantasies and opium highs, Richard’s journals chronicle their puzzling behavior. Who is the “Willy” his mother briefly mistakes him for? What is his sister’s real relationship with her wealthy former suitor Davenant Burgoyne, now engaged to another woman? Anonymous letters full of crude sexual taunts and a rash of animal mutilations soon begin to plague the district. Evidence implicates Richard in these crimes, and in Burgoyne’s subsequent murder and mutilation. As he discovers the truth, Richard matures from careless rake into a man facing a moral dilemma. Though its graphic passages may be disconcerting to some readers, the novel wraps a genuinely memorable reflection on family and human fallibility in a wickedly entertaining, intricately plotted read. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/2013 Release date: 11/01/2013 Genre: Fiction
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