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The Translation of the Bones: A Novel Hardcover – January 3, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451636814
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451636819
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,400,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Kay lays out a moving consideration of devotion and loss.” —New York Times Book Review

“What begins as the small mystery of one woman’s vision (ordelusion) explodes into a deeper story about how people cope with grief andloss.” —The Washington Post

“Fiercely lyrical yet exceedingly tough-minded…stark andunforgettable.” —Chicago Tribune

"You do not need to share the beliefs of Kay’s characters to be deeply affected by their stories….skillfully constructed and beautifully written book, which is as much concerned with common humanity as it is with individual faith.” --The Sunday Times

“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 uplifting….You don’t have to be religious to be moved by Kay’s elegantly calibrated writing.” –The Telegraph

An Equal Stillness won Kay the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. The faith-and-family subject matter of her second book could make The Translation of the Bones feel rather old-fashioned. Yet, 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, or just unfamiliar.” --The Financial Times (U.K.)

The Translation of the Bones is a well-tempered exploration of the haphazard, the religious and the mad…in beautifully musical sentences.” --The Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Francesca Kay’s first novel, An Equal Stillness, won the Orange Award for New Writers in 2009. She lives in Oxford with her family.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jody Harrington on January 9, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The second week of January is probably too early to pick the best literary novel of the year, but The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay will certainly find a spot high on my personal list by the end of 2012.

This superbly crafted tale of how the child-like faith of the mentally disturbed church volunteer Mary Margaret O'Reilly leads to unspeakable tragedy is compelling and profound.

Without spoiling the story, I can only reveal that the when the devout Mary Margaret has an accident while cleaning the crucifix in the chapel of the Sacred Heart church in South London, she believes that she has re-opened the wounds of Christ and that belief drives her to seek redemption which ends in the tragedy. Since the accident and her response to it happened with visitors in the chapel, a sensation ensues which drags the priest struggling with his own faith into the situation.

Although the length of a novel, The Translation of the Bones is so expertly and sparely written that it reads more like a short story. The plot has no loose ends and all of the characters--Mary Margaret, Father Diamond, Mary Margaret's morbidly obese mother Fidelma, and fellow parishioners Stella Morrison and Alice Armitage--are complex and believable.

Francesca Kay is a British author who was won the 2009 Orange Prize for New Writers for her first novel, An Equal Stillness (not yet published in the US). This second work is an inspiring story of faith, loneliness and family relationships which prompts the reader to reflect on these themes after finishing the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Corn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In only a little over 200 pages, author Francesca Kay manages to create what is easily one of the best books of the year...although it may pass under the radar. It shouldn't. The woman at the center of the book, Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, is seen as a simpleton by many who think they know her. But she is far from simple and those who seem to understand her are about to be shocked.

Mary-Margaret is a woman who is difficult to sum up. Her actions are fueled by one hope, that her world will be changed forever and she will find love. But first she has to succeed at an elaborate plan. Will her actions bring her the love she so desperately wants? And how were her own views on love affected by her mother's search for love, a woman who seems to feel lovemaking only in dreams? And Father Diamond, a man who worries that he has been too busy "gazing at his own soul to see into the souls of others"?

Mary-Margaret's yearning for love and the fulfillment of her faith is nearly palpable. She is not alone in her yearning. Love and grief are at the heart of this book, along with a wealth of surprises (even without the climactic event that shakes everyone to the core). There is also loneliness, the ultimate pain of "being human and alone" and yet for all the sadness it encompasses the book is not bleak. It is poignant and touching. The search for love balances out the pain - or it did for me.

Early on, Mary-Margaret is cleaning a statue of Christ in a Roman Catholic church when she witnesses a red color coming from "His wounds." At this point, I believed the book would focus on that event and everyone would exclaim over the possible miracle witnessed by Mary-Margaret. It seemed inevitable. Surprisingly, it was not, which says something about the originality of this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nicola Manning-Mansfield on February 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Reason for Reading: The Catholic plot intrigued me as well as the author being an Orange Prize winner.

This is a story of faith; of faith tested, lost, denied, renewed and tragically misplaced. The story is dark and it is sad but it is not without hope and redemption. A short book, it makes for a quick read and the book is more about characters than it is about action. A couple of events take place and the majority of the book then ruminates on how the characters react to and deal with those events. The characters are all wonderful. An assortment of Catholics, lapsed Catholics and non-religious. Each is an entirely real person with faults and each one the reader can find sympathy with. The story revolves around a young-ish priest who is undergoing a small crisis of faith at the time of the first event and he feels as if this state of his mind has made him unable to respond in the way in which he should have done thus making his personal crisis of faith feel even more burdensome to him. The characters all find themselves asking questions about their faith, or lack of it, without being able to come to an answer that is not found in the faith itself. I enjoyed the portrayal of a parish community and found some of the thoughts and ideas to be true, while others I quite disagreed with. But on the main, I wholeheartedly found the story to be thought-provoking and stimulating, sad and dark, yes, but redemptive and full of the mystery of the faith.
One does not need to share the faith of these characters to enjoy the book, but only wish to journey with them as they travel the paths that all people traverse when they put their lives in the hands of a power greater than them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Valentino on April 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Francesca Kay tells a compelling story about the consequences a violent act has on a group of religious and secular people, and provides an even more profound exploration of how abuse at the hands of Irish nuns -- at the hands of anyone, really -- might produce unexpected ramifications for those abused, those close to them, and those not.

The central story turns on the vision the simpleminded Mary-Margaret O'Reilly believes with all the faith in her, and it is considerable, that Christ has spoken to her through a statute in a chapel of the Church of the Scared Heart, Battersea, London. She's convinced her Lord loves her, and later, after she learns the truth about her mother Fidelma, she concludes she must purify her mother by invoking the ancient ritual of atonement and placation: a sacrifice. Specifically, drawing upon among the more faith-inspiring or troubling episodes, depending on your viewpoint, in the old testament, Genesis 22:1-19.

In the first half of the short, tightly drawn story, we learn about Mary-Margaret, her dimness, her faithfulness, and her symbiotic relationship with her mother. Slowly, as we approach the mother's critical revelation, we discover much more about Fidelma, who in many respects represents the most intriguing and tragic character in the tale. We also meet a fairly extensive bevy of personalities (some of them stock; a small weakness), given the brevity of the novel. Primary among them are Father Diamond, the parish priest, a former maths student who received his vocation early in life, but who now harbors doubts; Mrs.
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