The Gates of Rutherford Park: A Novel. Elizabeth Cooke. Random House Publishing Group. September 2015. 384 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425277195.
Today is the day Charlotte Cavendish will marry! Charlotte has always been the feisty one who takes on any challenge with zest, but today she’s teary and not at all sure she’s made the “right” choice. It’s a family habit, it seems and this third Rutherford novel has a more reflective tone than the previous two stories in this engaging series that has frequently compared to the TV series Downton Abbey. It certainly has enough life and death scenes, dramatic and conflicting dialogue and overwhelming consequences to deep the reader flipping the pages and abandoning all other work or chores.
So to begin with we experience Charlotte marrying a man who was blinded in the War; it is 1917 and England has certainly seen its share of wounded warriors the brutal and unrelenting war has produced. There’s irony here in that everyone believes Charlotte has the normal wedding jitters while others like Charlotte’s mother, Olivia, have abandoned their own spouses for a happier relationship. But Charlotte’s tears are really about something she doesn’t realize yet, a horrendous secret (at that historical time anyway) not to be uttered.
Olivia is living with her lover, American John Gould, and her husband, William, is recovering from a heart attack and seems a shattered man, albeit still stuck in his cold, aristocratic ways that are such a turnoff to his wife and children. For now, though, his daughter Louise is providing him the comfort he needs right now.
There are several juxtaposed characters who give unique perspectives on the course of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a consequence pitied yet scorned by many at home as just lazy dallying. The descriptions are heart-rending but also beautiful in the revelations each suffering character shares, more powerful and searing than any anti-war demonstration or speech. A former groom at Rutherford, tends healthy and wounded horses, mules, etc. in the war until his mind and body have had enough. A German prisoner of war cannot hold any objects without dropping them and is scorned by his captors for shirking his work. On and on it goes with no available medical treatment or understanding for these victims.
David Cavendish is not ready to relinquish flying in spite of his wounded leg. Another character is powerless to stop David from proceeding in a very famous WWI battle.
There is so much more than what is described above that makes this novel a comprehensive, horrific and beautiful rendition of all aspects of global and familial conflict. Interestingly, its scenes are far from stereotypical because the author takes us to the more intimate and honest aspects of love, pain, death, joy and peace. It’s a story you will never forget, and its author, Elizabeth Cooke is one very talented craftsperson who has provided a very special historical account that this reviewer oh so highly recommends.