by Bronwyn Elsmore
New to the town of Rushton, Heather is keen to make friends and get involved. When she is asked to join three women to make up the numbers at their monthly card morning, she jumps at the chance.
However, it soon becomes clear that the relationship between the three; Joan, Merryn, and Cecily, stretches back a long way. Can Heather inject new life into the group or was it a mistake to think she could?...
I thought I was in for a curl-up cozy read with Rushton Roulette and nothing wrong with that. However, the novel is far more nuanced and complex, certainly in the first half, than expected and I struggled to put it down.
Elsmore is careful to build a steady, individual picture of all the women, especially the three originals whilst deftly avoiding tiresome age-related tropes.
The nucleus of the story centers around a fairly simple premise, the card morning between three very close friends (two are cousins) of late middle age and the slightly younger newcomer, Heather.
When Heather attends her first card morning at Merryn’s, the narrative simmers with tension. Her internal monologue as she blunders through embarrassment, self-doubt, and several faux-pas was brilliantly deconstructed and toe-curlingly realistic to read.
Elsmore’s prose is gently witty yet almost forensically incisive with detail, especially in relation to Merryn and her house. I actually found the card morning held at hers to have a strangely sinister undercurrent which was intriguing. The three women exuded a Stepford Wives vibe as they subtly assessed and judged Heather and there are some humorous asides and exchanges.
When the card morning rotates to Heather’s, the dynamic changes. This is aided by the third-person perspective shifting to all the women, but little by little the personal vulnerabilities of Joan, Merryn, and Cecily flicker through and Heather takes a stronger, almost maternal role in the conversation despite being the younger woman.
Throughout, the story is well-paced, jaunty, and immensely readable. There is a clear insight and straightforward quality to the plot. This is no hand-wringing paean to lost youth, necessarily, but more an awareness of who these women are, and whom they could still become.
Sub-textually, there are some heavy issues, but Elsmore ensures that first and foremost, Rushton Roulette is an absolute page-turner of a novel and one that has considerable appeal not just to women of ‘a certain age’ like Joan, Merryn, and Cecily.
When the main thrust of the plot presents itself, Elsmore spends some time twisting and turning along with the women’s contrasting bravado and fear ensuring the reader is fairly gripped by what might happen, when, and to whom, especially as the narrative is entirely credible.
The last quarter of the novel is a little frothy compared to previously. Heather, who although a touch flighty, clearly possesses a thread of steel, slightly fell away at the end and Cecily’s rather surprising outcome seemed a touch forced. Notwithstanding, Merryn and Joan’s journeys perfectly befitted their characters and I wanted to read more, not only of them but all the women.
Rushton Roulette is a cleverly crafted little novel that expertly combines humor, realism, and poignancy to produce a thoroughly entertaining and, ultimately inspiring story. Highly recommended.