As the historically British term of the title itself implies, Rustication by Charles Palliser is a novel set in Victorian England and is narrated by the main character of 17-year-old Richard Shenstone who was recently asked to leave, or rusticated from, Cambridge for mysterious reasons. Upon moving in with his mother and sister in the run-down home where his mother lived as a child, he finds himself thrust amongst the gossip of their new neighbors in the small village of Thurchester. His opium-hazed perception of events, lusty imagination, awkward social skills, occasional naiveté, and bouts of paranoia add to the shadowy plot twists and turns of this gothic novel.
While trying to uncover the secretive details about his father’s recent death, Richard also attempts to uncover the source of the threatening letters and escalating violence taking place in the otherwise quiet village. People all over the town begin receiving letters from an anonymous source. While all of the letters spew lurid insults to the recipients, some threaten violence and death.
Here’s an excerpt from one such letter, provided on page one of the book:
“I am going to make you pay with your blood. You think you have got away with it. But you are wrong. You won’t be able to hide behind your friends the next time we meet. I am going to kill you but before I do that I am going to hurt you so badly you will scream for mercy.”
The intricately woven web of mysterious events unravel as Richard attempts, through his journal entries, to speculate as to the often duplicitous meaning of the townspeoples’ behavior. Even though he scoffs at the rampant gossip, he hangs on every word, hoping he might be able to grasp and dissipate the cloud of darkness looming over this town and his own circumstances.
While portions of this story dragged a bit for me, I did enjoy the gothic novel genre of Rustication. I could have done with less of the sexual fantasy entries in Richard’s journal, but overall the characters were well written with a bit of room for mystery left to unravel about each one. The larger murder mystery played out well, with plot twists that continued to loop and knot straight through to the end.