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.
You get so used to reading novels where the main characters are all young, middle aged, and then every so often someone turns the tables and plunges into the lives of women in their sixties.
You would expect them to be married, a myriad of grandchildren to spoil, but not in Kitson’s novel. Instead we met sisters, Diana, Antonia and librarian Noami, three very different women, all alone, all harbouring enough angst and anguish that it was very difficult to like them. Now don’t get me wrong, that is not to say that it spoilt my enjoyment of the novel, on the contrary, I found myself intrigued as to how their past woes would or even if they would resolve.
Lets have a look at each character and start with Diane. The eldest of the two sisters, owner of the local giftshop, the sensible one, the one who promised on her mothers death bed that she would looks after Antonia. Kitson left us in no doubt that it was a promise and a task she resented, a long held grudge drove a wedge between them and she longed for escape. Antonia herself was for me frustrating, I found her behaviour and actions childish and many times I could have quite happily screamed at her to stop. She was perhaps the most complex and as the novel progressed, the one that you did start to feel some empathy.
Naomi, was your typical librarian, quiet, understated, largely friendless due to what I perceived was her embaressment at two failed marriages. She was staid and traditionalist perhaps afraid for things to change and make her exit her comfort zone.
So how did things begin to change? Kitson used the discovery of human bones in a disused quarry to set off, not a dramatic sequence of events but a gradual examination of their lives and their relationships. You could sense the tinge of regrets, of a fear that somehow the bones had a connection with Naomi. As rumours swirled so did the minds of the women, past grudges resurfaced, dynamics shifted and unlikely friendships ensued.
I admired Kitson’s narrative skill to hold my attention, to enter the minds of the three women, to use their individual voices to explain themselves. Outside characters influenced their decisions, their thoughts pushed them to confront not only their own feelings but also those around them.
You wandered if Diane and Antonia’s relationship would endure, if Noami would cast aside that hard impenetrable exterior and let others creep in.
Old Bones was a fascinating and intriguing look into human nature, and emotion that was wonderfully perceptive and hugely enjoyable.
I would like to thank Louise Walters for a copy of Old Bones to read and review and to Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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.
Helen’s favourite novel is Dracula by Bram Stoker, and her favourite novella is Reunion by Fred Uhlman. Her top poet is Sylvia Plath.
Helen tweets @Jemima_Mae_7