The Translation of the Bones is the first of the books from the Orange Prize long-list for 2012 that I have read, although I plan to read many more. The story centres around Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a woman with learning difficulties who claims to see blood on a statue of Jesus whilst she is cleaning her local church in Battersea, London. Despite Father Diamond's best efforts, this 'miracle' becomes a bit of a sensation and it sets off a spiral of events that will have devastating effects for the residents of the parish, including MP's wife Stella, Mary-Margaret's housebound mother Fidelma, and Alice, whose son is serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The Translation of the Bones is largely a quiet, understated book. The central themes are the many varieties of religious belief (the mircale is left intentionally ambiguous) and the power and devastation of motherhood. The main characters are introduced in ways that make it easy to gain insight into their lives without Kay writing too many words about each. Then about fifty pages from the end the tone completely changes as the book becomes much darker and the reader can see the effect on the characters that have been built up so cleverly throughout the preceding sections. I couldn't put this book down whilst reading the end.
My favourite character from the cast was the priest, Father Diamond. When we meet him at the beginning of the novel he is worn down by his inner-city parish and on the verge of a crisis of faith. When something terrible happens in his church, it seems as if his belief will be gone forever, but instead he finds a way back to his faith. His story and quiet belief provides an interesting contrast to the fanatical belief and conviction of Mary-Margaret.
The Translation of the Bones is a very British book. Although the main themes can be easily understood by everyone, there are a lot of cultural references that I think would only make sense to Brits - MP expenses scandals, Tony Blair's "we don't do God" comment, the rise of the Conservative party and boarding school culture. The explanations of religion too make sense in the British context and wouldn't be as powerful to readers in more religious countries where faith is openly discussed,
All in all I was impressed with The Translation of the Bones, but it didn't blow me away. It might be short-listed, but I don't think this is going to be the winner.
Verdict: Quiet, understated read about faith and family.
Source: Library (reserved)
First Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5
Sounds like it might be good. I just picked up something similar called Mercy Among The Children about faith, not preachy faith, but a quiet living faith. If that makes sense. I'm curious to read it and see what it's all about.ReplyDelete
As always, great review!
Thanks for the recommendation Trish, I'll have to keep a look out for Mercy Among The Children as even though I'm not religious myself, I have a lot of respect for people that have quiet faith.Delete
I liked this too, and I'm pleased to see it longlisted - particularly as it's so different to her first book - but I don't think this is necessarily Francesca kay's year for the prize.ReplyDelete
Fleur, I'm glad you liked it too. I hope it gets more attention through being longlisted as I think it's gone a bit under the radar compared with some of the other longlisted books. Like you, I'll be very surprised if Kay wins.Delete
I have this one waiting to be picked up from the library. British and understated sounds good to me!ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it! Let me know how you get on with it :)Delete
I'd certainly like this one!ReplyDelete
Let me know when you've had a chance to read it, I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.Delete
It sounds interesting. Did the author explore why the miracle became a sensation? We *want* to believe?ReplyDelete
It's deliberately ambiguous - some people want to believe, others are there to disprove or cast doubt. It's hard to pin the author down on any of these issues!Delete
Your review makes me want to get to this one sooner than later. It's not a very long book either, but seems like an addictive read. Great review.ReplyDelete
You're right, it's not long, but not a word is wasted. I read it over two days, the majority all in one go as it was hard to put down. Happy reading :)Delete
I'm reading all of the Orange longlist too. I've heard good and bad things about this one, but I'm looking forward to it.ReplyDelete
You're reading all of them? I'm impressed, I'm reading most but don't think I will have time for them all. I'm about a third of the way into The Sealed Letter at the moment and very much enjoying it. I look forward to your thoughts on all of the books :)Delete
The plot is intriguing. I read the Orange Prize winner every year and usually one or two of the short list. I might pick this up, it's not getting good reviews... I wonder if it's the content.ReplyDelete
Thanks for reviewing!