I had planned on writing a post today on Publisher’s Weekly‘s Best of 2013 list, but when I started looking through it, I realized that many of the titles on their list that I’d like to talk about are either currently out with our reviewers, or haven’t been posted yet. So, instead I’m going to try to catch up today. One of my favorite books on the PW list is Charles Palliser’s Rustication. A gothic novel filled with several different mysteries, a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and a nice, lightly metafictional veneer, this novel is endlessly fascinating. I didn’t nominate it for this blog’s Best of 2013 list, because, despite the 17-year-old narrator, its teen appeal is probably limited by its sometimes shocking sexual language. So use caution in recommending it, but for the right mature teen readers, this is one of the strongest novels of the year
* PALLISER, Charles. Rustication. 336p. Norton. Nov. 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780393088724.
Adult/High School–Purporting to be a real journal from the 1860s found by the author, Palliser’s brilliant gothic novel sketches the bizarre events in a small town in rural England that leads to a brutal murder. Seventeen-year-old Richard Shenstone, the journal writer, having been “rusticated” (that is, expelled) from Cambridge for mysterious reasons, returns home to find his family circumstances greatly changed. His father has died–after being fired from his position in the church for a scandal known throughout the town but kept secret from Richard–and his mother and sister are living in poverty. Meanwhile, seemingly every eligible woman in town, including Richard’s sister, Euphemia, is after the hand of the heir to the local Earl and hoping to catch his eye at an upcoming ball. But amid preparations for the ball, various townspeople begin to receive shockingly sexual and violent poison-pen letters, setting off a wave of hysteria and suspicion, which quickly tightens around Richard. Readers, meanwhile, don’t know what to make of Richard, as his strange psychology is a perfect storm of unreliability: addicted to opium, carrying a dark secret from Cambridge, and in the grips of sexual frustration that leads him to flights of fancy and to believe at some point or another that practically every young woman in town is in love with him. The abundant mysteries and finely tuned prose keep the narrative moving compulsively forward, but Richard’s broiling late-adolescent sexual energy, which mature teen readers may find themselves alternately repulsed by and drawn to, is the novel’s anchor.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA