BOOK CLUB: Eye of a Rook

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Born from her own crippling chronic gynaecological pain, Eye of a Rook is both a masterful dual timeline work of historical fiction, and an opportunity for Josephine Taylor to highlight how far the medical profession still needs to go in acknowledging and dealing with unexplained, and often untreatable, chronic conditions.

Those who have experienced chronic pain or illness, with no identifiable cause, will know the frustration and distress of living with something that you are excruciatingly aware of, while the medical profession asserts it’s all in your head.  Friends and partners, at first sympathetic, becoming increasingly distant as their attempts to help produce no improvement and your pain becomes all-encompassing making interaction with others nigh on impossible.

Eye of a Rook follows two women Alice in modern day Perth, and Emily in Victorian London. 

In 2007 after a passionate night of lovemaking Alice awakens with what feels like the beginning of a urinary tract infection. Despite treatment, the pain does not go, and the burning sensation escalates across all of her nether regions.  Initially supportive, her husband Duncan is becoming increasingly distant, even accusing her of not wanting to get better. In desperation, feeling let down by the medical fraternity who seem unable or unwilling to assist her, Alice begins to research what she is experiencing.  As she researches her condition Alice comes across symptoms that seem to match her own. 

A condition that surprisingly seems to be experienced in varying degrees by a significant number of women, and yet one the medical profession seems on the whole to ignore.  Through her research Alice discovers that in the 19th century this condition was referred to as ‘hysteria’ and she is horrified to discover the barbaric way the condition was treated at that time. At this point I should add a trigger warning, Taylor’s description of the medical procedure many women were forced to endure is graphic, chilling, and sadly accurate. 

As part of her way to deal with what is happening to her, Alice decides to tell the story of a woman diagnosed with hysteria in the late 1800s and her medical journey, and so begins the story of Emily and her beau, Arthur.

At first Arthur and Emily enjoy a loving and passionate relationship.  Then one day Emly begins to experience pain on being touched intimately.  Over time the pain grows, until it is there all the time, the slightest movement bringing on searing pain, finding a way to sit, or lie, or walk without pain—impossible. 

In desperation, wishing only to relieve his beloved Emily from the nightmare in which she is living, Arthur consults a doctor recommended by Emily’s father who is also in the medical profession.

As Arthur weighs the heavy decision of what to do to help his beloved wife, Alice finds herself questioning the basis of her marriage to Duncan, who she wants to be and what she wants out of life.

Eye of a Rook brings into sharp focus a hidden condition experienced by too many women, and the difficulties they continue to experience in having the condition correctly diagnosed.  A cynic might suggest that if this was a condition experienced by men extensive research would have occurred in order to facilitate a cure!

Highly recommended.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Eye of a Rood by Josephine Taylor. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

ISBN: 9781925816716Copy courtesy of Fremantle Press

11 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Eye of a Rook

  1. Thanks Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read Eye of a Rook by Josephine Taylor.

    To be honest, I found this to be a challenging book to read!

    As noted above, it covers a difficult condition of chronic gynaecological pain and provides the reality of the condition and its effects on the women who experience it, with sensitivity and honesty.

    Eye of the Rook tells the stories of very different women over time two very different periods, but the characters are totally believable. The descriptions of their suffering make for hard reading.

    There is such a lot of pain and suffering caused by this condition and it really made me realise that we don’t know what other people are going through, particularly when a woman can experience incredible amount of pain without any visible signs of injury.

    Thanks you again for the opportunity!

  2. Thank you Beauty & Lace for the chance to read and review Eye of a Rook.
    I found this read incredibly fascinating. It took me a bit to get into but once I gt going, it was an easy read. I learnt a lot from this book that I didn’t know a great deal about. I left feeling grateful having not endured the pain experienced by the characters in this book. An easy 5/5 stars from me.

  3. Thanks Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read Eye of a Rook by Josephine Taylor.
    I found this book was a challenge to read. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, or find that the content was incredibly important, I just found the jumping around of timelines- particularly the historical sections- to be jarring and somewhat hard to follow. There are still sections I’m unsure of the relevance to the rest of the storyline, which in turn took away from my overall enjoyment.
    Taylor delves into issues I hadn’t previously come across in novels, particularly around vulvodynia and the associated (and varied forms of) pain, treatment and impacts. Women’s health in general is something so rarely captured within a fictional story, but they remain stories that are so important to share. For that in itself I applaud Taylor and thank her for taking on that challenge. It has certainly made me much more aware and I would hope any other readers would take on the same challenge I have now given myself to continue to learn and read more about these important and very real topics.

    1. I appreciate the applause, Kirsty. It is difficult to fit so much into 80,000 words (which I wanted to keep as my limit as a debut author), and to include different perspectives and a span of time, all which were critical to the narrative. But I hear your comments. Next time might see me have a higher word count to play with!

  4. Eye of a Rook by Perth based writer Josephine Taylor is a tough but integral read. Fusing a contemporary fiction narrative with a Victorian England based storyline has allowed this dual timeline novel to deliver a vital message. With an important focus on women’s health, gynecological misconceptions and invisibility in the field of chronic pain, Eye of a Rook is a much-needed composition.

    In Eye of a Rook, we take a trip to Victorian London where me meet the Rochdales. Arthur and Emily are a married couple and Emily is struggling with a bout of chronic unexplained pain. Arthur reaches out to a physician who prescribes a rather shocking form of treatment. This radical form of treatment is issued to ease Emily’s hysteria, which is seen as the cause of this woman’s pain. Centuries later we are acquainted with Alice, a writer and respected academic is suffering in silence, struck down a mystery source of pain that she cannot find a cure for. Despite the advances in medical technology, it seems little has changed in the treatment of women’s health issues. The pressure of this undiagnosed illness impacts Alice’s life and marriage, which will alter the course of her future plans.

    I admired the intent of Eye of a Rook. Josephine Taylor’s novel tackles a subject matter that is virtually unheard of and sadly lacking in terms of treatment or support. This book is an utterly devastating read that I found challenging, depressing, irritating and profound. It is a distinctive and critical piece of literature. I hope that Eye of a Rook will be distributed in a widespread manner, to be embraced by all readers – no matter their age or gender. It has a very sensitive but fundamental message to impart.

    The format of Eye of a Rook is in the style of a past and present flip narrative. We are privy to the innermost thoughts and experiences of a woman living in present day times. This is exchanged with the life experiences of Emily, a woman living in Victorian times. We discover more about Emily’s life via her husband’s viewpoint of her experiences, along with letters voiced by Emily. Although the two time periods are vastly contrasted, the issues seem to be the same. It saddened me to witness such an unacceptable form of treatment given to a woman with gynecological based problems in the 1800s and again see this arise in the present. This may not come as a shock to some, but it did upset me, especially as some of these issues hit very close to home for me medically. Reading Eye of a Rook gave the me the sense of acceptance, belonging and understanding I needed in this women’s health department.

    I will send a short warning to others that Eye of a Rook is a well written and highly educative read, but it may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers in terms of the medical sequences. I urge you to read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgments at the close of the book, they each provide some additional input into this challenging but honest read. It was brave of the author to present her own experiences of chronic gynecological pain in the form of an honest fictional narrative.

    * I wish to thank Beauty & Lace Book Club/Fremantle Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    1. Amanda, thank you. I appreciate the depth of engagement with my novel and the honesty of your response. It’s gratifying that you understand the reasons behind my need to write it.

  5. I am sorry it has taken so long to review this book. Life has got in the way of my ability to finish this story in a timely fashion and I have restarted it twice over. I felt like it deserved for me to read it through to gain the full perspective it is wishing the reader to achieve.

    The novel is both comprehensive in the notion of living with such a awful condition and what the past and the present offer us in way of medical understandings and also lack of understandings.

    The “invisable” pain is always the hardest to suffer with the ability to seek diagnosis and treatment often a long, traumatic and painful road, placing it under the banner chronic pain, which does not always provide better support or assistance in dealing with lifestyle effects of such a diagnosis.

    Eye of a Rook is a shockingly honest contempory and historical juxtaposition of perspectives, treatments, professionalism and compassion associated with such taboo associated with it.

    Though I found the novel difficult to stick with and read through in a timely manner, it hit home how comprehensively written it is and is a true credit to Josephine Taylor. The story covers a lot of information, swaps between time periods and involves perspectives which are barberic and horribly graphic and paint a picture of how cruel the world was in the past, the hope that we have learnt from such things and the ability to move forward with far greater respect and dignity for patients.

    Victorian England and modern Australia provide the perspectives of the Emily and Alice. Two women suffering an indiffernt and invisible pain. Both families are in the dark on how to handle the women and their suffering. They are left completely unable to live day-to- day lives.

    Emily is diagnosed with histeria and Alice is diagnosed with vulvodynia, both diagnosis do not provide relief nor great assistance in supporting the women through their pain and suffering. Cruelty and misunderstanding of women of Victorian England provide Emily with the most horrid surgical suggestion from a medical professional and supported by her doctor father. Her husband luckily supports her and provided support and guidence throughout the course of her chronic pain.

    Alice, she ends up with a terrible loss personally. She finds herself alone, in a new location, slowly healing. Dealing daily with a pain she hopes one day will just fade into her subconcious and disappear from her body.

    The novel is heartbreaking, strong willed and bad tempered. It provides the emotions to allow you to grieve for the pain and suffering of such a horrible disorder and the lack of understanding and information provided to those who suffer.

    I think it is so important to draw on the hiden and quiet disorders, the ones that others dont always know that you are facing and this novel did that beautifully.

    I am glad that I read it through and give it justice. I have discussed the content of the novel with quite a few girl friends who I know relate to the feelings that surface while reading Eye of a Rook.

    Thanks again for the chance to read this novel.

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