The Bones of It:
Kelly Creighton (Liberties Press 2015, trade paperback) 224 pages
The Bones of It has not only grown on me, it has expanded within my mind in the four days since I finished reading it. New thoughts and insights, freshly-realized comparisons to other great literary works occur to me with the suddenness of an Irish rain storm. I want to note them down for you, expand on them, urge you to delve into the complex house of mirrors that is the mind of Scott McAuley, the nerve center of author Kelly Creighton’s creation.
Yet The Bones of It is also a devilishly clever mystery that in its own way twists the genre back onto itself as did Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Aykroyd all those years ago. I want to nudge you in the ribs, gain your attention and point out the landmarks in this novel. But then I’d ruin it for you, the equivalent of bald-facedly asking what snacks you want served at your surprise party. And so, we have a bit of a problem here and one that cannot be handled with that lazy slop of a technique in slyly cautioning ‘Spoiler Alert!’ That is why it has taken me four days to write this review; caution was as much a requirement as skill.
Scott McAuley reminds me quite a bit of a Northern Irish version of Holden Caulfield. Both characters are loners, both have academic failures, both have schoolmates who are not really friends, and both have unrequited sexual episodes. There is a young girl key to both Salinger and Creighton’s stories. Scott and Holden are also within their first-person narration acutely keen observers of their place within a landscape that constantly rejects them.
The intriguing part comes in to play in terms of to whom it is that Scott tells his story. I think that the first reference to a hidden observer comes on page 32, where in describing the funeral of an acquaintance of Scott’s named Conor we have the following:
“Conor’s da shook my hand. ‘Nice to meet you, Scott,’ he said. He was dry,
literally dry: dandruff had flecked onto his dark nylon shoulders in random
constellations, skin granules flaked off his forehead and the sides of his nose.
Dehydrated by death. He was like a snake shedding his old skin for this new
one he had underneath, one more suited to the person he was going to be after
that day. Not a widower and not an orphan. There’s no name given to people
who lose children, because it’s too unthinkable. You told me that. Do you
Well hang on a minute. Who’s this ‘you’? Besides the effortless detail of Creighton’s writing, this was the point where I started to deeply engage with The Bones of It. All we veteran readers are used to the conventions of a first person narrative where much like a Shakespearean monologue the thoughts are being addressed to God, to the audience or to the character within himself. But here we have The Other. And bless her heart, Creighton resists the urge to go dropping obvious hints. We readers start to imagine possibilities, formulate conclusions, effectively write along with the writer.
And that is precisely the point.
A young Polish woman named Klaudia who Scott meets while working at a garden nursery in County Down after he has been expelled from university in Newcastle plays a bit of a word game with Scott. She likes to give him either/or options: Tea or coffee? Daniel Day Lewis or Johnny Depp? Pansies or tulips? Besides being an enjoyable enough device, just the sort of game two young people play when first exploring one another, the either/or is the spine of The Bones of It. Catholic or Protestant? (This is Northern Ireland after all) Guilty or innocent? Fact or fiction? Truth or lie?
I need to describe a habit of mine in order to illustrate a further admiration I have for Kelly Creighton’s writing in this true discovered masterpiece of fiction. I dog ear pages as I am reading a book for review, and yes I know that makes me a book abuser, but would it be better if I wrote all over the margins? Anyway, I will bend up a bottom corner of a page that has some passage or key point I may want to refer to in the later review; and double bend that corner if I might be directly quoting from that page. That’s the good dog ear. I will bend the top corner if there is what I perceive as a mistake, a clunker, a failure of words or ideas. There were I think four or five of those bad dog ears where I thought at the time, ‘No no, she’s just stuck that in to give the story some action. That doesn’t make any logical sense.’ When I finished the last page of The Bones of It, made tea and stared at my fireplace for a time, I went back to those bad dog ears and neatly smoothed them back into place. Those were not errors at all; they were insights.
If I dared to, I would go on here to discuss many more aspects of The Bones of It that I truly admire: the dialogue, which is masterful; Creighton’s skill in the working of various set-piece scenes; how she is equally adept at handling moments of action just as well as times of silence and reflection; and Scott’s father Duke MacAuley who is one of the great villains … unless he’s not a villain at all. Hero or villain? Either/or?
No I had better leave it there. Look here my darling, I haven’t been able to tell you a fifth of what I would like to say, but you will just have to trust me with this. I review books because I enjoy the task and I always hope to find the work of the Next Great Writer dropped through the letterbox slot in my door. If she keeps this up, Kelly Creighton can be that Next Great Writer. The Bones of It is not just a novel to read, it is a novel to experience.
Be seeing you.