Rook is set in the enchanting coastal village of Bosham in Sussex, and Rusbridge paints the scene with rich descriptions of the sprawling shoreline and surrounding scenery. It opens with Nora’s sudden return home to Creek House, much to the disgruntlement of her mother Ada, who has an unstable grip on reality. The explanation for her return gradually unfolds in a series of flashbacks to Nora’s past: memories of her childhood with her sister, her promising music career as a cellist, an illicit affair with her significantly older music teacher. Each gives us a snapshot of her history, but Rusbridge holds back the answers until the very end.
Nora rescues and adopts an injured fledgling rook that she finds and brings him home, and aptly (yet unimaginatively) names Rook. She feeds and cares for him with help from Harry, a local handyman who is working on Ada’s garden. Rook becomes, in a sense, a substitute child, who is solely dependent on Nora. His reliance is heightened by his ultimate downfall as a bird: his inability to fly.
Running alongside this is the Anglo-Saxon storyline. Before his death, Nora’s father found the graves of Earl Godwin and King Cnut’s eight-year-old illegitimate daughter in Bosham church. Eleventh Century history is well known in Bosham but one historian in particular has a theory that differs to popular belief. Elsa believes that it is not the first Earl Godwin that is buried at Bosham church but the second, aka King Harold II. This being the infamous King Harold from the 1066 Battle of Hastings who, as depicted in the Bayeaux Tapestry, was killed by an arrow in the eye
Jonny, a TV documentary maker, arrives on the scene and is hot on the scent of rumours that the church holds King Harold’s burial place. He is motivated by the excitement that this discovery would produce and is determined to unearth the truth, quite literally. His investigation unsettles the close-knit village and he is faced with extreme reluctance to exhume the graves and disrupt the church.
The question is, how do a cellist, her slightly mad mother, an affair, an adopted rook, King Harold and a TV documentary all fit together in one story? And how is all of this contained within a small country village? Rusbridge expertly manages this in her painstakingly crafted novel of multiple layers, and you have to persevere to find out.
Words: Jessica Loveridge