Chilled to the bone – a book review of The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

5 Aug
IMG_1998Debbie Howells’ The Bones of You grabbed me from the very start. Howells tells the story of an apparently normal, borderline idyllic, English village where residents are wealthy commuters or work in agricultural or traditional ‘country’ pursuits, which is devastated by the murder of eighteen year old Rosie.
Most of the book is told from gardener, horse lover and mother of one of Rosie’s friends, Kate’s perspective, as she finds herself pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery of what happened to Rosie.
Through Kate we feel grief for Rosie’s death, as she attempts to comfort her own eighteen year old, Grace, and navigate her through the terrible task of coming to terms with what has befallen her friend; we feel empathy for Jo and Neale, Rosie’s parents, as through Kate’s eyes Howells draws a picture of devastation and disbelief; and we become intrigued as Kate is, almost against her and our own will, as she finds she cannot leave the crime alone.
Kate is a well-drawn picture of a woman who suddenly finds herself without a key focus of her life, as her daughter Grace leaves for university. It feels like her at times almost obsessive fascination with the Rosie case and Rosie’s family, particularly her mother, Jo, happens because she is trying to find a niche, to be needed as her daughter needed her before she struck out for her independence at University. This clever positioning makes Kate far more than a channel for the storytelling, and gives her character some real complexity and a very human face.
On one level The Bones of You is a straightforward whodunnit; but it has other levels much more complex than that, which is what made it such a compelling read. Of course I wanted to find out who murdered Rosie, but through clever use of flashbacks told in the dying Rosie’s voice, as she watches her life play back before her eyes, I ended up wanting to find out because I liked her as a character, and felt deep sadness for this young girl, forced to become mature way beyond her age, who had apparently seen her own tragic fate. Through the use of Rosie’s narrative voice, filling in gaps in our understanding and her back story, the novel also became a well-written exploration of abuse, its perpetuation and ongoing impact, and the different forms abuse can take. All told as a narrative, without authorial explanation, a clever technique for filling in the background and, since we uncover information as our lead characters Kate and Rosie do, providing various characters with motivation for murder, so names on the list of suspects ebb and flow, keeping me guessing almost to the end.
While I did guess ‘whodunnit’, I’m left with a sneaky suspicion this was through luck not detective insight!
With summer holidays upon us, this would be the perfect book to sling in your luggage – but don’t make it the only one you take. If it fascinates you anywhere near as much as it fascinated me, you’ll have read it in 48 hours!
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