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The Translation of the Bones Hardcover – 25 Aug 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st edition (25 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297865080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297865087
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 2.3 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 688,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Francesca Kay grew up in South-east Asia and India and has subsequently lived in Jamaica, the United States and Germany. Her first novel, An Equal Stillness, won the Orange Award for New Writers, and was shortlisted for Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Europe and South Asia Region). She lives with her family in Oxford.

Author photo ©Jonathan Nicholl

Product Description


If Francesca Kay's second novel were a piece of music, it would be a requiem, finding the poetry, perhaps even the glory, in loss and despair. Which is not to say that her novel is depressing or gloomy - far from it. In its depiction of a community grappling with the pain of what it means to be human, it is a novel which manages to be both poignant and lyrical as Kay's debut, An Equal don't have to be religious to be moved by Kay's elegantly calibrated writing. (Lucy Beresford THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Rich in the same verbal artistry and emotional finesse as her debut, The Translation of the Bones does not disappoint...With its finely worked tapestry of voices and viewpoints, its keen-eyed pleasure in the contrasts of inner-urban life, its lyrical excursions into memory and yearning, The Translation of the Bones sharpens the reader's mind - and stretches its sympathies - rather than drenching it in mystical mawkishness. Both Spark and Greene would surely say "amen" to that. (Boyd Tonkin THE INDEPENDENT)

unfailingly gripping, filled with the essential ingredients - tension and emotion. (Patricia Duncker LITERARY REVIEW)

The Translation of the Bones, Francesca Kay's second novel, is a well-tempered exploration of the haphazard, the religious and the beautifully musical sentences with carefully judged rhythms (Philip Womack THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

You do not need to share the beliefs of Kay's characters to be deeply affected by their stories...skillfully constructed and beautifully much concerned with common humanity as it is with individual faith. (Peter Parker SUNDAY TIMES)

In this novel about the people and things we keep locked away we encounter those locked in their own worlds, those locked up and the feelings we hide inside, too fearful to show. Francesca Kay is the author of the stunningly beautiful debut An Equal Stillness and this second novel is tinged with the same bittersweet melancholy that pervaded the first...The writing is intense and exquisite (Caroline Jowett DAILY EXPRESS)

Kay's writing is rich and luscious without being overblown, conjuring images of ancient rituals, "feast days and old beliefs, flowers, magic, miracles and spells". Fildema's past is depicted with an intriguing tenderness, as in the image of her and her lost lover "shaking like two birds tumbled in a storm" after a secret coupling. By contrast , Fidelma's descent int o a life of poverty and single motherhood is portrayed starkly - "jumble sales and council offices and tricks in the backs of cars for cash". By alternating between vivid often religious imagery and simple, economical language, Kay maintains the momentum in a story that is more often about the characters' inner worlds than their actions or experiences...elegantly written (Catherine Scott TLS)

though Kay's novel is emotional, it's not sentimental and it never lingers on the spot. This combination of feeling and structural restraint seems rather new (FINANCIAL TIMES)

Mary-Margaret is witness to a miracle in her local church, but shocking revelations shake her community to the core. Absorbing read. (WOMAN'S OWN)

Kay's challenging but very readable novel invites the reader to look behind the doors of the church, posing difficult questions about the value of religion as a mandate for living. (WE LOVE THIS BOOK)

beautifully written (OXFORD TIMES)

Superbly drawn characters people this powerful novel that memorably explores facets of love, grief, isolation and belief. (CHOICE MAGAZINE)

[Kay's] new book fulfils the promise of her first being a work of great poise, sensitivity and intelligence...This is a moving book about faith, belief and love, isolation, loneliness and passion, and about motherhood, too...every strand is given its due weight, carefully balanced and controlled, while the overall emotional pitch is not mawkish or sentimental but fitting and of a compelling integrity. It's a book that shouldn't be rushed...Elegant, sad, poignant, it's a very fine piece of work (CORNFLOWERBOOKS.CO.UK)

The author shows us that parental love constantly encounters difficulty; and that the task of priest and religious is the hardest of all. That she should write about such a theme marks her out as daring; and that she writes about it so penetratingly shows her to be wise... Francesca Kay reveals herself as a compassionate and truthful artist in this, her second novel (Alexander Lucie-Smith CHURCH TIMES)

This is another hugely satisfying follow-up to a superb debut - the Orange New Writers' Award-winning An Equal Stillness - but where that book was ethereally beautiful, this offers a down-to-earth poignancy in its comparison of religious ideals and the practicalities of belief (Jonathan Ruppin)

Francesca Kay raises interesting questions about the nature of love, faith and isolation...this is an eloquent novel of unusual grace...Kay understands and empathises with those who populate her world, ensuring that the reader does too...The Translation of the Bones draws attention to the world that surrounds us on a daily basis in a way we may not have thought or been challenged to look at it it before (

The book not only has a brilliant, read-in-one-sitting plot, but Kay also pays much attention to detail and description. The characters' despair is felt keenly, and the absence of conventional speech gives way to a brilliant exploration of the inner thoughts and secrets of each character... Faith, despair, longing and the fear of a futile existence are just a few of the issues raised in the pages of this novel, encouraging the reader to look not only outwards but also into his or her own experience (FICTION UNCOVERED)

Book Description

A novel about faith and motherhood from the author of AN EQUAL STILLNESS, winner of the ORANGE AWARD FOR NEW WRITERS.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 21 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Francesca Kay won the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2009 for her first novel, An Equal Stillness, a fictional biography of a female artist.

In The Translation of the Bones she explores new territory, setting her story in a quiet Roman Catholic parish in Battersea, London - well, perhaps things are not as they seem and the peace and calm belies a whirlwind of emotions and tumultuous questions about faith, organised religion, relationships especially those between mothers and their offspring.

Mary Margaret O'Reilly is a devout young parishioner, spending most of her time cleaning the Sacred Heart Church. She is described by the parish priest as a "duine de Dhia" which literally means "child of God" but which used to be the Irish term for a child with special needs. Whilst cleaning one particular statue of Jesus on the cross, she witnesses a "miracle" and she believes the statue is actually bleeding. Religious hysteria and frenzy ensue and the church suddenly becomes the focus of manic religious fervour. Indeed the story reminded me of the many reported sightings of "moving statues" in Irish churches during the mid-80s - folk are always hungry for examples of modern "miracles".

However, the "miracle" is merely a backdrop to the stories played out by local parishioners including Margaret Mary's reclusive mother, Fidelma who is confined to her high-rise flat where she reminisces about maltreatment by the "holy" nuns whilst waiting for her daughter to feed her. Stella Morrison feels the removal of her son to boarding school like the cutting of the cord, Alice Armitage keeps herself busy tending to the needs of elderly parishioners in an effort to distract herself from the pain of having her son fighting in Afghanistan.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pam Parsons on 19 Jan. 2012
Format: Hardcover
Francesca Kay's second novel is just as good (although different) from her first. The way she writes is beautiful. She captures words incredibly well, and the different characters leave a distinctive impression and stay with you long after reading it.
And on top of all this, it is also a gripping story!
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By Mari Howard on 24 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I kind of enjoyed this book - but, I found the unfolding story became a predictable one. 'Religon' disapoints, is themain message - it disappoints and it damages.

The portraits of the various members of the Roman Catholic congregation were a little too near standard 'types', though the drawing of Mary-Margaret and her Mum was interesting, sociologically. The priest steps out from the ages of Graham Greene. I so wished this writer had something fresh to say in a story based around the ways inwhich we use our religious beliefs and apply them to the inadequacies and tragedies in our lives. For example,suppose the priest had been more positive in his own calling?

The tone, also,is one of quiet accepting despair of the human condition. The book, rather than making you think, drags you down to where you don't really want to. And says, 'twas ever thus,and ever shall be. More contrasts in the character's attitudes and less underlying dread and dreariness of atmosphere in advance would have made for a more lively read without detracting from the central tragedy.

Nevertheless, intellectually sound, and absence of cliched phrasiology, gives this novel 4 stars.
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By j.s.pullen on 1 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
Other reviews have quite rightly praised the writing of this novel and the clever way that we see the different characters develop and and the way their lives interweave with one another
It is not a depressing book but an honest account of how disaster can strike through the misguided actions and self-concerned of people who intend no harm wheter it is the girl who does the dreadful deed or those others like her mother and her mother whose acts and decisions lie in the distant past.
It is also a book that shows how each person still has some way foward
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By MrsC on 11 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautifully written. It was such a pleasure to read this book. It's a slow, quiet, thoughtful novel about faith, love, sacrifice, doubt, despair. I found it very moving, almost poetic, and enjoyed every page of it. Though it's a short book I read it slowly, enjoying beautifully constructed sentences. It's a kind of book that you want to make time to read, to think and re-think the choices the characters made. Ultimately, to me, it was a book about what we choose to believe in and how we go on about justifying faith.
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