One of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year. "A literary Dr. Frankenstein, [Palliser] has stitched together parts of Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe. The result is deliciously wicked." —Ron Charles, Washington Post
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 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 is sure to spin readers into its "spider's web of intrigue and violence" (Jane Jakeman, The Independent).
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.