Rustication: A Novel

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One of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly
“Endlessly fascinating…one of the strongest novels of the year. ” - School Library Journal
“Readers will have as much grisly fun just sorting out the facts as they will solving the mysteries.” -The Daily Beast
A vertiginous gothic masterpiece from the best-selling author of The Quincunx.
Charles Palliser’s work has been ...

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One of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly
“Endlessly fascinating…one of the strongest novels of the year. ” - School Library Journal
“Readers will have as much grisly fun just sorting out the facts as they will solving the mysteries.” -The Daily Beast
A vertiginous gothic masterpiece from the best-selling author of The Quincunx.
Charles Palliser’s work has been hailed as “so compulsively absorbing that reality disappears” (New York Times). Since his extraordinary debut, The Quincunx, his works have sold over one million copies worldwide. With his new novel, Rustication, he returns to the town of Thurchester, which he evoked so hauntingly in The Unburied.
It is winter 1863, and Richard Shenstone, aged seventeen, has been sent down—“rusticated”—from Cambridge under a cloud of suspicion. Addicted to opium and tormented by sexual desire, he finds temporary refuge in a dilapidated old mansion on the southern English coast inhabited by his newly impoverished mother and his sister, Effie. Soon, graphic and threatening letters begin to circulate among his neighbors, and Richard finds himself the leading suspect in a series of crimes and misdemeanors ranging from vivisection to murder.Atmospheric, lurid, and brilliantly executed, Rustication confirms Palliser’s reputation as “our leading contemporary Victorian novelist” (Guardian).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/02/2013
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.)
Kieran Shields
“Rustication is an ingenious take on the traditional Victorian Gothic novel, daring us to unravel the dark and twisting tale of a murder that hasn’t happened yet. The gripping voice and masterful plotting swirl together in a relentless undertow of gothic intrigue and dread that’s impossible to resist. Not that you’ll want to. This is a brilliant read.”
Jane Harris
“Charles Palliser is one of our finest writers and a new novel from him is always cause to celebrate. Rustication is a book for lovers of mystery and suspense, for those who enjoy reading between the lines of the text. Palliser turns the reader into a detective as the story unfolds: who is writing these vicious letters? And what is their purpose? How much can we trust the narrator's account of events? This is an extremely clever novel in which not only is there a mystery in the invented nineteenth century world of the story but also a mystery about the nature of the text the reader is reading. Here is a book to satisfy fans of Wilkie Collins and Vladimir Nabokov.”
Valerie Martin
“A wonderful, sly, compelling tale of mischief, greed, and malice. [Palliser's] narrator, Richard Shenstone, is so marvelously and credibly naïve that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hoping he would recognize before it was too late that what he doesn’t know could well be the death of him.”
Iain Pears
“Charles Palliser is a wonderful novelist, and Rustication is a wonderful novel.”
D.J. Taylor - The Spectator
“Palliser’s hold on his narrative is enough to turn it into an exercise in pure form. As in a superior detective novel, character, scene and incidental detail fade away and all that remains is the thrill of the chase.”
Stephanie Merritt - The Guardian
“A gothic puzzler perfect for misty autumn evenings.”
Tucker Shaw - The Denver Post
“Engrossing… an entertaining, stylized, Gothic-esque read.”
Nicholas Mancusi - The Daily Beast
“Readers will have as much grisly fun just sorting out the facts as they will solving the mysteries.”
Library Journal
Seventeen-year-old Richard Shenstone finds that his mother and sister are far from happy to see him when he unexpectedly returns home from Cambridge, and his suspicions that the two are hiding something deepen as he meets their equally secretive neighbors. Meanwhile, an unknown culprit terrorizes the town by brutalizing animals and mailing anonymous letters detailing residents' sexual misconduct. Richard records his investigations in carefully kept diary entries, but his own opium addiction and fondness for nighttime wandering will keep readers guessing about his possible role in the town's misfortunes. VERDICT Palliser, best known for his Dickensian epic The Quincunx, returns to the setting of his earlier suspense novel The Unburied for another gothic tale that will appeal to fans of John Harwood or Michael Cox. Palliser vividly captures the claustrophobic feeling of a small Victorian community being overwhelmed by anxiety and mistrust, and fans of twisty plots will enjoy guessing at the town's many secrets as they sift through the rumors and gossip offered up by a well-drawn cast of darkly quirky characters. [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/13.]—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
A reprobate college student stands accused of a host of moral failings in an intensely gothic tale from Palliser (The Unburied, 1999, etc.). Richard Shenstone, author of the diary entries that make up this novel, was once his family's great hope: With his father dead, his sister despairing of finding a rich husband and his mother despairing in general, earning a living and upholding the family's good name has fallen to him. But when he arrives at the family's bayside British home in December 1863, he's in no position to help. He's been rusticated--effectively expelled--from college for poor conduct, thanks largely to the opium habit he's picked up. The opening pages have a pitch-dark cast: Richard's sister, Euphemia, pounds out angry music on the piano; the roads are muddy when they're not frozen; and every local seems to drip contempt upon the family. As Richard befogs his brain and pursues an untoward relationship with a homely maid, the plot comes into view: Somebody is sending vicious, profane letters to various townspeople threatening violence and accusing the local women of all manner of sexual indiscretions. The letters, along with Richard's entries about his sexual adventures, are deliberately provocative, but, like most gothic literature, this is a highly moral novel: It's about the struggle to live rightly when nature and man alike send storm clouds your way. The story turns on whether or not Richard is the author of the letters, but--odd for an epistolary novel--Palliser doesn't go as deeply into Richard's head as the setup and themes demand. Much time is spent elaborating on the complex web of relationships in the town, particularly Euphemia's pursuit of a husband, which saps the emotional power of Richard's effort to redeem himself. Appropriately moody, lurid stuff but with plenty of plot cogwheels exposed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393088724
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/4/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 321,380
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Charle Palliser was born in Massachusetts, but has lived in the UK since the age of three. A graduate of Oxford University, he writes full time in London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 22, 2013

    Firstly, this is faster paced and a little more studied than its

    Firstly, this is faster paced and a little more studied than its predecessors.  Palliser crafts a brilliant tale with a unreliable narrator as the principal, a young ne'er-do-well who has returned home to a plot of which he is an unassuming part.  I liked the narrator, who was at times impetuous and other times naive but grew to be fairly clever (if you believe the literal interpretation of the book).  If you do not take it on face value, it is still a compelling read, and, as usual, at its heart is a complex mystery that unfolds piece by piece, drawing the reader in and making him guess at the narrator's role--is he victim, or is he a monster.  If you liked Unburied but was bogged down by certain of the details in that novel, especially those centering around the cathedral, this novel dispenses with any considerations of that sort and is really centered around polite (or impolite) society within a clergy community.  It's full of betrayals and conspirators and will leave you guessing until the last 40 or so pages.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    Charles Palliser's Rustification is not one of our usual type of

    Charles Palliser's Rustification is not one of our usual type of books, but it is a powerful story. Richard fulfills most of the characteristics of a malingerer and a daydreamer intoxicated as he mostly was, but his journey to reality is similar to ours through life as we mature and become responsible. The country life is vividly described in this story that is rich, imaginative with deep psychological insights. This is a theme I find fascinating after having been introduced to it by a friend in school who directed me to read The Usurper and Other Stories. Overall, I hardly have any criticism of this story. Charles Palliser stood out here as a wonderful storyteller.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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