Saturday, 18 February 2012

Book review: The Devil’s Music

By Jane Rusbridge
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, The Devil’s Music is Jane Rusbridge’s debut novel.

The book opens with an informative glossary of knots and what follows is a story that, just like a knot, is made of different strands that come together by being separated. In fact, I believe that the essence of the novel is to be found right at the beginning of the book, in the following passage:

[…] waiting for me, is the new length of yarn-tarred hemp, its smell of salty, windswept miles. The dip and curve of the strands is thick as muscle. This is what gives rope its strength, the laying together of strands which have been twisted in opposite directions. Rope is bound together by the friction of its parts.

Andrew and her mother are the main strands forming this metaphorical knot and it is their voices that Jane Rusbridge chose to narrate this story. Two people, three voices.

At first we meet Andrew as, following the death of a father who never understood him, he returns to England. His sister Susie recruits his help to renovate ‘The Siding’, the family’s seaside retreat. This is the place that, in his eyes, changed their lives. His mind keeps going back to the traumatic episode that was a catalyst for this change and that is recounted by the second narrative voice, that of Andrew as a child.

The family dynamics that lead to the incident involving young Andrew and his younger disabled sister, Elaine, is however better understood through the voice of their mother. We learn about her abusive husband, her struggle to keep Elaine at home with her, her depression and the freedom that she glimpses when she meets - and falls in love with - a young painter.

Despite her story not being told in the first person, it feels more emotional and authentic than the two other strands of narration and I found myself looking forward to the chapters that portrayed her point of view.

Written with a careful choice of words - beautifully evocative of an era long gone - this is a novel that explores family ties and the meaning of memories. And memories, as two other novels taught me last year, are not always what they seem to be.

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