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[425] The Translation of the Bones – Francesca Kay

” His fear was great; of nothing but an infinity of empty space, of endless miles of blackness broken only by the light of dead stars reaching down to earth to drown in its implacable, indifferent seas. Is it madness then? he asked. Am I as mad as Mary-Margaret and the girls who swore that your eyes moved and your wounds bled? All of us, deluded fools, butts of some great cosmic joke, whistling in the dark? ” (226)

The Translation of the Bones, with a brief span of just under five weeks around Easter, covers a cast of diverse characters in various stations of life that are only united by the place of their worship. Alexander Diamond is the parish priest who encounters more than just a faith crisis. His life has suddenly become sad and stagnant that he feels a lack of strength to lead his congregation through another Easter. Stella Morrison, a shadow cabinet member’s wife who no longer her husband’s beliefs and opinions, finds a compensating pleasure in the intense sentiment of the relationship with her children. She looks forward to having her son home for the holiday from the boarding school. Alice Armitage, another mother, counts the days until her soldier son returns from Afghanistan, while Fidelma O’Reilly, whose obesity has become a medical condition, imprisoned in her tower block, stares out over the city through the window days on end with only thoughts for company.

But there she was, chattering on and on about the way He had opened His eyes and looked straight at her; she could see His eyes glowing in the dark. Still, Mary-Margaret consoled herself, the truth would soon be out. She was the chosen one, the handmaid of the Lord. (67)

It all begins with Mary-Margaret O’Reilly, the slow-witted but devout parishioner who routinely scrubs the statue on the crucifix and anoints it with olive cream, When the word gets out that she has witnessed a miracle, religious mania descends on the Church of Sacred Heart in Battersea. A mob of awestruck and hysterical people come to see the bleeding statue with open eyes on the crucifix. But the consequences are far more devastating than the altar left in disarray and outcry of unholy goings-on. What is taken to be a mystic revelation turns to an excruciating tragedy that leaves not a single person’s life unchanged.

I wonder if they were less literal-minded than we are today, she said. Whether they believed what they had heard and didn’t stop to scrutinize the details. I mean, entirely sane and reasonable people believed what all sorts of things that we find ludicrous. (139)

The Translation of the Bones does not concern with heavenly wonders, since the mystery of the miracle remains unsolved. Nor is the book a mocking of religious precepts. The “miracle” simple fades into the backdrop as the book subtly delves into one thing, inclusive to all human beings, of which there is no means of exit: suffering. With writing so quietly majestic and probing, Francesca Kay shows how intricately and inevitably love and suffering are connected. Without love there could be no sorrow, and thus suffering is spared. The novel is heedless of the miracle’s credibility but rather how we respond to such a claim. It registers precisely the potential within religious belief for mania, obsession, literal-mindedness, and delusion as profusely as for uplift, consolation and compassion. In the switches of mood and tone of an urban panorama without chapter break, the novel reveals how people connect and how ambiguous faith can be. Incubated below Mary-Margaret’s devoutness is a plan that she executes in secrecy, with cunning, calculation, and devotion. She is neither insane nor evil, but believing firmly what only children might believe, what myths about bleeding statue and nursery tales about Old Testament sacrifice, is what makes her religious passion dangerous. Kay’s second novel is unassuming but powerful book about the painful nature of motherhood, the role of faith, and love.

227 pp. UK 1st Edition. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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4 Responses

  1. I added this one to my wishlist when first heard of it, so I was happy to see you liked it enough to recommend it as a BUY.

    Happy Holidays.

  2. […] [425] The Translation of the Bones – Francesca Kay […]

  3. […] A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook: With writing so quietly majestic and probing, Francesca Kay shows how intricately and inevitably love and suffering are connected. Without love there could be no sorrow, and thus suffering is spared. The novel is heedless of the miracle’s credibility but rather how we respond to such a claim. It registers precisely the potential within religious belief for mania, obsession, literal-mindedness, and delusion as profusely as for uplift, consolation and compassion. […]

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