Guest Post: Old Bones by Helen Kitson

We're happy to welcome another guest reviewer to our blog today in support of the Indie Book Network, and the new release from Louise Walters Books, Old Bones by Helen Kitson. Early copies are available to pre-order from the publisher now.

The discovery of a corpse in the quarry of a countryside village shakes the quiet lives of the house-sharing sisters Diana and Antonia and of the librarian Naomi. This simple premise sets in motion the events recounted in Helen Kitson's second novel Old Bones, but it doesn't take long before we realize that the ones in the quarry are not the only “old bones” to be uncovered in Shropshire: teenage loves, failed marriages, repressed desires, personal and professional traumas; these decades-old wounds haunt the everyday lives of the three women, and their emergence brings back memories and resentments that have remained unspoken for a long time. Kitson's prose discloses them slowly but steadily, moving across the points of view of Diana, Antonia and Naomi to reveal the rich mosaic of distressful secrets behind their unhappy and unfulflled lives. Is the man in the quarry Naomi's second husband Brian, mysteriously disappeared 15 years before? Did Diana make up her memories about her teenage friend Gill? And what really happened when Antonia was not living with her sister Diana, why is she so bitter? Uncovering these “old bones” will be painful for the three women, and it surely will touch and excite empathetic readers. Helen Kitson's smooth prose does a great job in capturing the bleak and undramatic slowness of the three women's everyday life in the village. She has a sharp eye for the insecurities of her main characters, and the intimacy with their thoughts that she grants to her readers make the inaccessibility of the thoughts and lives of others even more haunting, allowing Kitson to skillfully capture the loneliness experienced by those cursed to live with secrets. Although Kitson's writing style is clearly and intentionally less ambitious and more accessible than Woolf's, the comparison with the Virginia of Mrs Dalloway seems rather appropriate to convey her interest in the inner lives of her characters – as is rather appropriate that, together with D.H. Lawrence and Agatha Christie, Woolf is one of the authors that the bookish Diana reads in Old Bones. Borrowing from these predecessors, Old Bones paints a portrait of private and public life made of memories, lost loves, and – perhaps (I certainly won't tell you) – murder, offering to its readers the chance to reason on the possibilities that lie on the untaken paths of life. Is it desirable to think about these paths, to think about what could have been, what would have happened if, or should one just accept the reality of what is and move on with her life? This is perhaps the question that Kitson intended to answer in her novel, and with a combination of explicit descriptions and multifaceted symbolisms (Diana's childhood doll is a particularly notable example), she makes of the private lives of these three women an excellent site to investigate it. She constructs a novel that is about a real mystery as much as it is about an existential one, the brutally human mystery of how to go on living when everything in life seems to be falling apart. The journey of Old Bones brings Antonia, Diana and Naomi to solve both of these questions, and discover that perhaps they were one and the same.


Giorgio Guerisoli holds a Msc in Literature and Modernity from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in American Studies from the University of Sussex. He is interested in contemporary literature, and works as assistant editor for the literary publication Horizon Magazine. Twitter: @giorgioguerisol

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