The Translation of the Bones, Francesca Kay’s second novel, is a quiet book.
It paints pictures of lives, and it shows how those lives are changed by one event.
And it is a powerful book.
It says a great deal about the importance of faith and the huge significance of motherhood.
At the heart of the story is Mary-Margaret O’Reilly. A young woman, a little slow-witted and very devout. Mary-Margaret is one of a team of ladies who regularly clean the Church of the Sacred Heart, near her home in Battersea, and that role is very important to her.
During one afternoon’s cleaning something happens that will have repercussions for all of those present. Mary-Margaret falls from a stepladder, breaking her wrist and hitting her head. As she falls she sees the eyes of a statue of Christ open, and his wounds bleed.
Word of what has happened spreads quickly, and the small church is beseiged.
Stories begin to unfold,
Mary-Margaret believes that she has been chosen, that she has been given a mission. Meanwhile Fidelma, her house-bound mother, waits at home, wholly dependent on her daughter for food and company.
Stella Morrison fought to become the second wife of a successful man. She won, but now her youngest child is at boarding school and she is lost. Alice Armitage feels the absence of her son too. She copes by keeping busy while her son fights in Afghanistan.
Father Diamond struggles to cope with the aftermath of Mary-Margaret’s miracle, and finds himself questioning his vocation.
Francesca Kay illuminates all of their hearts and minds. She drew me into their lives, and she made me understand their emotions, their hopes, their fears.
She used her setting brilliantly: the timeless church rituals set aginst mundane details of life in contemporary London. And the writing was a joy. Such a lovely turn of phrase, such a wonderful eye for a telling detail.
The Church of the Sacred Heart, the congregation, the locale came to life.
What happened was dramatic, but it felt natural, inevitable.
There were times when it was painful to read, when I wanted to look away. I couldn’t. I was involved, and I had to see things through to the end.
I’m glad that I did.