Diana and her sister Antonia are house-sharing spinsters who have never got over their respective first loves. Diana owns a gift shop, but rarely works there. Antonia is unemployed, having lost her teaching job at an all girls’ school following a shocking outburst in the classroom after enduring years of torment. Diana is a regular at the local library, Antonia enjoys her “nice” magazines, and they treat themselves to coffee and cake once a week in the village café.
Naomi lives alone, haunted by the failure of her two marriages. She works in the library, doesn’t get on with her younger colleagues, and rarely cooks herself a proper meal. Secretly she longs for a Boden frock.
When a body is discovered in the local quarry, all three women’s lives are turned upside down. And when Diana’s old flame Gill turns up unexpectedly, tensions finally spill over and threaten to destroy the outwardly peaceful lives all three women have carefully constructed around themselves.
Helen takes us back to the fictional Shropshire village of Morevale in this, her brilliant second novel which exposes the fragilities and strengths of three remarkably unremarkable elderly women.
If there is a pattern developing to the books I do the most blog tours for, it is this: Damp Pebbles-run tours featuring books published by fab indie press Louise Walters Books. Dream team! Thank you to Emma and Louise for having me on the tour, and for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. Although, of course, I couldn’t resist buying both Old Bones and Helen Kitson’s previous novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson!
The two books are both set in Morevale, but are standalones (with a couple of sly references to the first book in Old Bones, which I always enjoy!) and while I am glad I read them both, you don’t need to read The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson before you dive into Old Bones. Which you should – this book is quirky, original, and, most importantly, focuses entirely on three women ‘of a certain age’ – a group which is often neglected in fiction. The relationship between the ‘spinster sisters’ Diana and Antonia is painfully fraught and antagonistic, riven with the hurts and rivalries of many years, and yet they are curiously dependent on one another. It isn’t always pleasant to listen to them bicker and needle each other, but it rings true, and as their pasts come to light, it is clear where these old wounds come from. There are brilliantly depicted moments of arrested development, where their childish sniping and petty revenge schemes tip over into humour (particularly in the case of Antonia, who is a constant source of exasperation for her sister). The third protagonist, Naomi, is a sadder, lonelier figure, and I found Kitson’s exploration of her character interesting and insightful.
The story itself is full of twists and turns, and, like The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson, it is always surprising in terms of how and when Kitson chooses to make revelations. We often find things out, or at least infer them, long before some of the characters, and this makes for an intriguing reading experience. I found myself waiting for confirmation rather than new information a lot of the time, which fits with the hazy rumours and second-guessing that flies around the village. It is hard to explain how Kitson manages to keep up the element of surprise in this book – it isn’t through startling disclosures (important plot points are dropped in almost casually at times) but rather through picking over the ramifications of these disclosures, surprising us with the characters’ reactions, rather than the dramatic events themselves. It is very clever, and very original.
The themes of disappointment and missed opportunities hang heavy in this book, but there are glimmers of hope. At its heart, Old Bones seems to me to be a book which explores the fact that everyone has their own peculiar trajectory, that the mundane and the dramatic weave together to form personal histories which echo into our present reality. As we follow these women through their everyday lives, we see how the past haunts each of them, a tangible presence that they cannot escape from. But we also see how they endure, survive, get on with things, make their own way as best they can. Old Bones is a quietly intriguing book, shining a light on characters all too often written off or forgotten, and it provides an enjoyably different reading experience.
About the Author
Helen lives in Worcester with her husband, two teenaged children and two rescue cats. Her first poetry collection was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize. She has published three other poetry collections and her short fiction has appeared in magazines including Ambit, Feminist Review and Stand. She holds a BA (Hons) in Humanities.
Helen’s debut novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson was published in March 2019. Her second “Morevale” novel, Old Bones, will be published on 16 January 2021.
Louise Walters Books: http://bit.ly/37dpwKM
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2LPuDKI
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/365gdwN
Published by Louise Walters Books in paperback and digital formats on 18th January 2021