‘Sometimes, when our present is a little too empty, our past moves in to fill the gaps. We have no room for our future to take root. [loc. 1063]
Nora, an accomplished cellist, has returned to her childhood home on the Sussex coast after the end of a love affair. There is friction between her and her dipsomaniac mother Ada, fuelled by the secrets they both keep. (These secrets are also, for the most part, kept from the reader.) Nora's life is quiet and solitary, enlivened only by the young rook she rescues from teenage yobs. She names the bird 'Rook', and -- with the help of local artist and handyman Harry -- nurses him back to health.
Change comes to the village in the form of a documentary maker, the young and dashing Jonny, who wants to make a programme about the church. Local legend -- reinforced by Rook's prequel -- has it that King Harold (of 1066 fame) and / or King Cnut's drowned daughter are buried somewhere beneath the floor of the church. Nora, whose father was involved in an earlier excavation of the church, is drawn to the mystery, and to the rakish Jonny. (Rook, however, hates Jonny.)
Secrets are unearthed, the present opens out into the future ...
Rook is tremendously atmospheric, often lyrical, and full of beautiful description: yet I didn't actually like it very much. Rook is by far the most interesting and likeable character. Nora and Ada's relationship felt more painful than anything, and I found myself sharing Ada's irritation and frustration with her melancholy, secretive child. I'm not sure whether Rook was somehow a mirror of the black raven of Cnut's banner; and Cnut's famous 'turning back the tide' gesture (the whole point being that he couldn't) could have been compared less obliquely to modern-day concerns about rising sea levels and coastal floods. (But still, I'd rather read something too oblique than heavy-handed.)