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Rutherford Park: A Novel Paperback – July 2, 2013
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“A breathtakingly beautiful book. Cooke portrays an aristocratic dynasty that in 1914 was poised on the brink of extinction, as ponderous as the huge dinosaurs but just as magnificent. The exquisite intimacy of the writing and of the haunting love story drew me into this elegant world so entirely that I couldn't imagine ever leaving it. The vivid characters and understated heartbreak of their conflicts, above and below stairs, are depicted with sensitivity and insight. Superbly researched, a real treat.”—Kate Furnivall, author of The Russian Concubine
“I found myself addicted to Rutherford Park, much as I was to Downton Abbey. I reveled in delicious detail about life in a great country estate, all the while waiting to learn: would Octavia’s family survive or would they be torn apart by the forces converging on them: personal failings, society’s excesses, and Europe’s Great War?”—Margaret Wurtele, author of The Golden Hour
“Beautiful, melancholy and richly detailed, Rutherford Park elegantly depicts the lives within an English country house on the cusp of a new age. Elizabeth Cooke evokes classic authors like Vita Sackville West and Frances Hodgson Burnett.”—Natasha Solomons, author of The House at Tyneford
“Reminiscent of Catherine Cookson, a heart-aching story of an old world order and class divides set against Edwardian England.”—Judith Kinghorn, author of The Last Summer
“With its vivid descriptions and memorable characters, Rutherford Park drew me in from the first page. Richly textured with historical details, the novel captures perfectly the pre-World War I mood and atmosphere of the grand Yorkshire house and the lives of those who inhabit it. The final page left me thoroughly satisfied, yet wishing for more. Thank you, Elizabeth Cooke, for a wonderful story and the promise of another.”—Kelly Jones, author of The Woman Who Heard Color
“Comparisons with Downton Abbey on the eve of WWI are inevitable, but Rutherford Park gives a more comprehensive and realistic look at the farms and mill villages that sustained the great houses and shows us the inevitable cracks in their foundations. Compelling.”—Margaret Maron, author of the Judge Deborah Knott series
About the Author
Elizabeth Cooke lives in Dorset in southern England and is the author of twelve novels, among them the international bestseller The Ice Child. Her last book, the non-fiction The Damnation of John Donellan was described as "a masterpiece" by The Times. She has a long-established reputation for vivid storytelling and historical accuracy.
Elizabeth's family originates in the North Yorkshire Dales - Bronte country - and her grandfather worked at Kiplin Hall, where he was one of the "downstairs" staff. His life, and Yorkshire itself - both its outstanding natural beauty and the industrial life of its mill towns and cities - were the inspiration for Rutherford Park. Elizabeth is currently working on the second Rutherford book.
Top customer reviews
Ever since Downton Abbey debuted, capturing my -- and a large portion of the British-loving public's -- imagination and renewing interest in upstairs, downstairs tales (like the self-same show that once enthralled the public for five years), there has been a boom in fiction of this ilk, with varying results. Last year I discovered Phillip Rock's Greville trilogy, truly superlative storytelling which to my mind perfectly captures the flavor of such dramas on the page -- and in many respects exceeds its filmic counterparts in characterization and story-craft. Rutherford Park looked to be the most promising successor to the gold standard set by Rock's novels that I've encountered yet, and to some extent meets that mark -- but with mixed results.
Cooke is an accomplished wordsmith, capable of a gorgeous turn of phrase, oft-times deftly evoking the glamour and grime of this bygone age with her carefully-crafted prose. But her biggest strength is also this novel's greatest drawback, as Cooke's dreamy, evocative prose slows the narrative pace to a sluggish crawl. There is a wealth of potentially compelling material within its pages, but her descriptive, narrative-heavy storytelling -- while setting the scene in a serviceable manner -- advances the storytelling in fits and starts. This is a relatively short novel, clocking in at only 333 pages, divided into only ten chapters, yet it felt in desperate need of trimming in order to advance to the "meat" of the storyline -- the various characters standing on the precipice of great change, and their world hurtling towards the Great War. And with only ten chapters, ranging in length from roughly twenty to sixty (SIXTY!!) pages, the nuggets of compelling storytelling material find themselves buried within pages of prose that, while often beautifully rendered, nevertheless slows the forward momentum of the storyline to a crawl.
That said, those who love Downton Abbey-esque storylines of this type will find their perseverance rewarded by this book's final third, where the characters and plotlines thus far introduced come to fruition. By far the best and strongest aspect of Rutherford Park is its examination of aristocratic family life, and Cooke's exploration of how the strict social structure and values of the day could fracture relations between tradition-bound parents and their modern-minded children, foreshadowing the impact of the war on their family and class. My favorite storyline (SPOILERS) involves Octavia's affair with the American John Gould, and how that forces her husband to awaken to the realization of what his never-yielding insistence on clinging to the status quo might cost him in terms of family and legacy. While I'm dying for Gould to get a happy ending,what I loved is how their brief affair illustrates the importance of working on one's marriage and never taking it for granted. Both Octavia and William are arguably culpable, but the crises they face relative to their relationship and in the lives of their children serve as a powerful illustration of the importance of communication and of never taking one's closest relationships for granted. Because in the volatile world facing the family, survival depends not on clinging to what always has been, but facing the future under-girded by a foundation relational development as one's best hope for a lasting legacy.
Despite its sluggish pace, Rutherford Park is an often engaging novel about a world on the cusp of profound change. In fact, one could possibly argue that the novel's somewhat cumbersome pacing ultimately serves to underscore Cooke's larger purpose -- setting the Cavendish family, and the servants in their orbit, on a trajectory from leisurely tradition to change, spurred by the crucible of war that will leave its impact on every level of society. The novel builds towards a crisis in Louisa's life that serves as an impetus to bring husband and wife, parents and children together with a level of honesty that was previously unfathomable, setting the stage for future dramatic developments that hold great promise. Cooke is a talented writer with a wonderful feel for the time period, and while the execution of this novel prevents me from naming it a favorite among the ranks of Downton-type fiction, I am looking forward to seeing where Cooke takes her characters next.
Stopped at page 50. No need to keep burdening myself.