It has been more than a decade since Charles Palliser's last novel, The Unburied, and Rustication returns to that book's setting in the coastal town of Thurchester. The title describes the act of being expelled from a school or compelled to reside in the country. Both definitions may be applicable to 17-year-old Richard Shenstone, who leaves Cambridge in December 1864 for his family's new home in a "benighted backwater" of a "wind swept marshland." Unknown to Richard, his father has recently died, and his mother and sister aren't particularly pleased to see him. His mother even calls him Willy at first. Why?
At church, he meets the Rector Quance's family and the Lloyds. He wastes no time wheedling himself into this social world, as well as admiring the young women, including Betsy, the family's servant. There's some talk about a Shenstone scandal. People begin receiving badly misspelled, vile, threatening letters, animals are mutilated and eventually there's a murder. Richard records all this in his journal, as well as his opium and alcohol use and his womanizing.
As the variant narrative lines begin to spread out like a spider's web--per Palliser's usual charming penchant for narrative confusion--Richard's journal-voice changes. Though not as long nor as complicated as Palliser's most famous work, The Quincunx, Rustication is a hugely enjoyable, atmospheric journey into the rich, damp, gothic world of late 19th-century England. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher