Bone Gap

bone-gap

Bone Gap was written by Laura Ruby and is due for release in the UK later this month. It’s a modern faerie tale, set in a town where everything is not quite as it first appears. The novel won the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award and is a stand-alone story. I’d like to thank Faber & Faber for providing me with an advance copy for review.

There is something strange about Bone Gap. The small farming town has always been full of gaps, as though the bones of the world a just a little looser there. Some of those gaps are so big that a person can fall into them and disappear. Perhaps that’s why no one takes Finn seriously when he claims that Roza has been kidnapped. The fact that Finn O’Sullivan can’t even describe the man who supposedly took her doesn’t help matters. Roza was young and beautiful. No one really expected her to stay on the farm with Finn and his older brother Sean for long.

Besides, everyone knows that Finn isn’t normal. People call him Moonface or Sidetrack due to the trouble he has concentrating. It seems typical that he’d make up the kidnapping. After all, his mother also just slipped away and abandoned him. Only Petey, the beekeeper’s daughter, takes him seriously. Yet Petey has troubles of her own. She knows that she’s ugly and is concerned that Finn only likes her because she seems easy to get.

Roza, on the other hand, faces discrimination of another kind. She finds herself in a strange world, guarded by a savage hound and kept prisoner by a man who cares only for her beauty – one who patiently waits for the day that Roza loves him back. Escape seems impossible, but she knows that she must find a way. Roza dreams of returning to her native Poland and can’t allow a manipulative stranger to keep that from her…

Bone Gap is one of those novels that defies labels – one that’s difficult to even prescribe a genre to. I could call it a thriller, but that’s not all there is to it. I could call it a fantasy story, or a feminist faerie tale, but that still doesn’t quite describe the novel. Really, the only think that I can really compare it to is Twin Peaks. Both focus on the disappearance of a girl from a town that’s not quite right, and how that disappearance affects the people who have been left behind. It’s a very ambitious story but, unfortunately, I felt that it was often a bit too ambitious for its own good.

The novel is incredibly slow burning but its plot is thick with metaphor. It never talks down to its audience and so the reader really has to pay attention, as even the most insignificant occurrence can have deeper meaning in the grand scheme of things. While the story can be read as a straight coming of age tale, beneath the surface lies a deeper commentary which addresses such things as small town mentalities and the objectification of women.

While these themes become more apparent as you read further into the tale, I initially found Bone Gap to be quite difficult to get into. It’s a long time before the tiny details begin to draw together to form a bigger picture, slowly evolving into a modern-day reimagining of a very popular Greek myth (but to avoid spoilers, I’m not going to tell you which one). By the final chapter, everything does make sense but to reach this point you have to stick with it for well over two hundred pages. This is where I struggled the most with this novel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t engaging enough to hold my attention for that long.

The novel is beautiful and lyrically written, filled with charm and whimsy, but I got the feeling that this masked an underlying weakness in the plot. Beneath Bone Gap’s evocative prose, there didn’t seem to be much substance. It felt almost as though it was two novels smooshed together – a surrealist fantasy story and a sub-par mystery. So much of it felt contrived, making no sense in the greater scheme of things beyond the fact that the story needed for it to happen. For example, why is everyone so quick to discount Finn’s testimony? It’s a missing person’s case! I know that this is entirely the point that Ruby is making but I don’t think a kidnapping claim can really be brushed off by the police that easily. Personally, I felt that the story should have possibly focused on one side or the other, becoming either a fantasy story or a contemporary thriller. The shift between the mundane and the fantastical was simply too jarring.

The novel also seemed to have some trouble with translation, which also detracted from my enjoyment of it. The text is peppered with Polish words and phrases, especially during Roza’s chapters (despite having studied at an American university, Roza’s grasp of English seems to be surprisingly weak). As the book often does not tell you what these mean, I was forced to look some of them up myself. In a brief Google search, I discovered that there were a number of errors in the text which ranged from incorrect genders used to misspelled words. If I could find this out using Google Translate, I would have hoped that the novel would have been fact checked a little more closely. Hopefully, these things will have been fixed by the time the book is released.

Yet I did largely like the way that the novel treated the concept of beauty, particularly when it came towards attitudes towards women. We see this contrasted most clearly in the characters of Roza and Petey, both of whom are treated differently by people who can’t see past their physical traits. Roza is stunning beautiful and this comes at a price. She’s mistrustful of men as she’s found that most objectify her for her beauty, feeling somehow entitled to her and insulting her if she tries to resist. Petey’s appearance is never described on page but many characters consider her to be ugly. This also comes with its share of problems, as Petey gradually comes to realise that people are oddly protective of her, believing (insultingly) that men will take advantage of her because she will be compelled to take whatever she can get.

This is where Bone Gap was at its most interesting. It held a mirror up to society’s objectification of women – the general inability to see anything beyond how a woman presents herself – to show where the real ugliness lies. And I felt that it did this well. Apart from the fact that this caused almost all of the male characters to come across as pigs. While the female characters were also guilty of this, Finn was the only male character in the story who did not mistreat or misjudge women to some degree. From Roza’s creepy kidnapper to the chauvinistic Rude boys, the characters seem to think that women exist for them rather than as rational, autonomous beings in their own right. Even Sean, who genuinely loves Roza, is far too quick to assume she has walked out for him and gives up searching for her almost immediately.

The lack of depth to the characters is, for me, the true failing of this story. Only Finn felt truly realised as he at least got a full character arc. He developed, learning something about himself and accepting his disability for what it really was. No other character retrieved this level of care. While Roza and Petey were both very strong characters, neither was especially active in the story. Ultimately, I found that I didn’t care for them because I didn’t ever feel as though Ruby had given me enough opportunity to know them.

Anyhow, this review is getting long so I’ll wrap up. Bone Gap was very beautiful and offered some interesting food for thought. However, I found it to be slow and surprisingly shallow. I didn’t think it was an especially memorable novel and so I’d say it’s probably only really one for fans of surrealist fiction or faerie tale reimaginings with a bit of twist.

Bone Gap is due for release on 29th December and is currently available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. thorntonrigg
    Dec 19, 2016 @ 08:34:37

    Lovely thoughtful review, thanks.

    Reply

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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