It says more about the height of my ‘to be read’ pile, and the slowness of my reading, than about my enthusiasm for this book, that it has taken me so long to read Rook by Jane Rusbridge. The slightly battered edges of my copy of the novel also testify to the fact that I have lent it to a couple of people telling them that although I’ve not read it yet, I’m sure they will enjoy it. So when it was last returned to me I made it my priority.
It is a story about secrets, those of a community and of a family; about what is buried, both literally and metaphorically, and what one might find if one digs in the right place.
Set in the richly observed town of Bosham, it is a tale interweaving known historical facts, local folklore and a central conflict between mother and daughter, Ada and Nora.
Ada has an increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, spending much of her time reflecting on the past, through which we gather fractured fragments of her life. She resists the care of Nora, who has returned home, without warning, leaving her life as a concert cellist to spend her time giving music lessons to local children. The women’s uneasy home life is further disrupted by the arrival of a documentary film crew, researching the legend that an 11th century king may be buried in Bosham church, and seeking permission for an exhumation.
In order to distract herself from her own uncomfortable memories, Nora tries to keep herself busy with running and involvement with the local community, but when she finds an injured fledgling rook, the bird becomes her main focus of attention. It lives in the house with her, and as it grows, it sits on her shoulder to be petted, or ferociously attacks unwanted visitors. As it grows and recovers, so does Nora.
I’m afraid, I found this aspect of the book a bit tricky, as the idea of a bird in the house, or on someone’s shoulder, sends unpleasant visceral shudders down my spine.
What I did enjoy about the novel was the rich language and the evocation of place, of the environs of the town of Bosham, and the idea of the layers of history that lie there. It made me want to visit and explore, and to see the clouds of birds in the sky (from a safe distance birds are fine!) and feel the wind from the sea on my face, so vividly can I imagine them from the descriptions.