Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Rutherford Park

Rutherford Park: A Novel

“Snow had fallen in the night, and now the great house, standing at the head of the valley, seemed like a five-hundred-year-old ship sailing in a white ocean.”

So begins Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke, the story of a great country house on the eve of World War I. The story starts on Christmas Eve, when Octavia Cavendish, the lady of the house, sees her husband in an intimate moment with another woman. At the same time, her son Harry has seduced a maid, with tragic and far- reaching consequences. We are immediately drawn into a world where tradition and propriety are everything. William Cavendish is an earl and a creature of that tradition, proud and unbending, while his wife Octavia chafes under the restrictions placed on her as lady of the house. Harry has dreams of his own, as do his sisters Louisa and Charlotte. And underneath the surface everyone has secrets.   

The story is told from the viewpoint of both family members and servants as lives change and the storm clouds of war gather on the horizon. William has a secret that may change their lives forever, and Octavia has to make a choice between duty and love. In many ways this is the theme of the book. Harry wrestles with guilt over his earlier indiscretions, unaware that he has a child in the world. The servants too must grapple with the changing times- some are anxious to embrace change, while others take comfort in, and are indeed defined by, their traditional ways. It’s a fascinating mélange of luxury and heartbreak, secrets and lies, set against the backdrop of a world plunging into war.   

Rutherford Park is a phenomenal book. If you’re looking for a Downton Abbey vibe, you’ve got it right here. But it’s so much more than  that. It’s a fine story in its own right, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. This is a book I was sorry to finish. The characters are often achingly real, and the glimpses into the life of this period were fascinating and occasionally harrowing. 

The last page was a joy to read, and symbolic of all the changes that have affected this family throughout the course of the book. Times are indeed changing, and it’s nice to see the family change as well to meet the challenges of the future. There’s a hint of redemption here and it was touching. There is a sequel in the works, and I will be reading it to see where the family, and indeed the estate, go next. If you’re interested in a story about family, love and duty you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Excerpts:

He looked at William. "You kept this secret," he said. "All these bloody years."
William stiffened. "I don't intend-"
"But she came to our house!" Harry exclaimed. "Came here, and to Rutherford. She sat and ate our food and lorded it over the bloody servants..."
"Be quiet," William said.
"Be quiet!" Harry repeated. "Is that what a gentleman does? Be quiet about it?"
"I should think you have little room to maneuver on the subject of being a gentleman," William retorted. 

"Whatever ship he came on, he makes himself at home," Harrison said. The plates clattered; the tea was poured. He began to laugh. "And he charms ladies, so I hear. Especially wives."
"Does he?" said Mary. "How would you know?"
"Popular in town. Popular all over. Certain titles."
"That's enough of that," Mrs. Carlisle countered.
"I expect she likes him."
"She's hardly ever at dinner," Nash said. "So I doubt it."
Harrison looked at him. "Do you indeed?" he replied scathingly. "So knowledgeable. Such a man of the world."

6 comments:

  1. Great review! This definitely sounds like a book I'll need to pick up when I get the chance. I've not read any novels based in the World War I era, so that would be an interesting backdrop to read a story against!

    Wendy @ Escape Into Fiction

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    1. Awesome! I love it when authors will show the servant side of things in historical novels. I find that those perspectives are sometimes much more interesting than the 'nobility' perspectives. Oh, that reminds me...have you ever seen the movie Gosford Park? It's a murder mystery where you get the pov's of the servants and the lords and ladies. Pretty interesting movie! :)

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  2. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one as much as you did! I'm really looking forward to reading it now -- good thing I have a copy sitting on my shelf waiting.

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  3. I love that the servants have points of view, this sounds like something I would really enjoy, thanks for sharing your wonderful review, I will add to my Amazon wishlist!

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  4. Greg, this is a wonderful review and it sounds like a wonderful book. I will have to keep an eye out for it!

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  5. This sounds so good! Great review! I'm dying to read it now, it's been a while since I've read a book from this genre and this one sounds perfect!

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