Sunday, June 17, 2007

Remembering the bones

Remembering the Bones / Frances Itani (Harper Collins Canada)
Sept. release date

I received this as an ARC at Book Expo, and began reading it while waiting in line for Frances Itani to sign it (which she did, delightfully). I then picked up 2 bags full of other books throughout the day, but when I got on the train to go home, this is the book I couldn't keep away from. I read it all the way home, and then stayed up to finish it. It drew me in and I did not want to let Georgie or her family go. It is wonderfully written; I think it will be one of my favourites this year. (n.b.: this is a Phyllis Bruce book, so I knew I was in good hands from the start. Phyllis Bruce is an editor with her own imprint; I bow to her!)

Georgina Danforth Witley has been invited to tea with Queen Elizabeth II, along with 98 other Commonwealth citizens who happen to share her Majesty's birthday: April 21, 1926. Georgina lives in Ontario, Canada, so all she has to do to get to her rendezvous with royalty is drive to the airport and hop her flight to London, where she intends to stay for ten days and see the sights as well as Queen Elizabeth. Georgie has followed Elizabeth's career since childhood, and has all sorts of memorabilia of her coronation, her marriage, her children. However, in her excitement over the upcoming events, Georgina makes an split-second driving error and her car goes off the road where it tumbles to the bottom of a ravine, ejecting her. She lies injured at the bottom of the ravine, where to keep herself alive she goes over the facts of her past, telling herself stories of her family and going over the names of the bones in the body as she evaluates her injuries.

Her old habit of naming bones stems from her younger days of reading her grandfather's 1901 Grey's Anatomy. He was a country doctor who died young, in WWI, but Georgie fosters a sense of closeness to him by resting in his dark cool library and reading his medical books. She is so fond of Grey's Anatomy that she gives the diagram of the skeleton a name: Hubley. She recalls this as she lies in the ravine, hoping that somebody will see evidence of her car's escape from the road before she becomes the female counterpart to Hubley. On first hearing the synopsis of this book, I was a bit sceptical that an 80 yr. old woman would not be missed while she lay there stranded. To Itani's credit, she gives a wonderful explanation of the reasons why it is entirely probable. At one moment, Georgie reflects that "on Wednesday the 19th of April, the day of the Queen's Lunch...the Queen will be the only person in the whole world who will know I am missing."

Throughout her ordeal, Georgie lyrically recalls her grandparents, her parents, her sister, her own marriage and children, all alongside the Royal Family's parallel lives. The story weaves in and out of the past; WWI, small town Ontario, the Windsors, modern theatre, houses and husbands. She draws on the strength of her mother and grandmothers to keep herself conscious and hoping for rescue. She worries about the effect her death might have on her daughter and her sister, but simultaneously worries about the breach of protocol in missing the Queen's tea and hopes they don't think badly of her for it.

I really loved the writing, so crisp and yet with so much power in the vagaries of recollection. Georgina is a strong, complex character who fully inhabits her life; even as she lays aged and hurt in a ravine, her memories of her childhood and young adulthood feel contemporaneous. Itani captures the essence of the youthful soul which remains even as the body ages. She takes her place among the constellation of writers featuring old women looking back on life, which seems to be a theme in Canadian literature, and she stakes her claim very convincingly.

The proposed cover is the only difficulty I see with this novel (and this is really the only iffy thing). My ARC has a lovely, spacious cover image, with the Queen edging in on the sky and a silhouetted tree. The cover I see in the HarperCollins catalogue, on the other hand, is mustard yellow with an orangey bird and flower shapes stamped on. It has no relevance to the story nor any appeal to the eye. I hope that it is not the final cover, because I can't believe that it will have anything but a negative effect on sales; it expresses exactly nothing about the deep fascination of this story. This is a perfect novel to give to those Royal watchers you know, a novel for women wanting to read about a very female oriented life, a novel of family ties to give to friends & relatives of all description - come on, guys, put the Queen on the cover! Even my husband's eye was caught: "Is that the Queen?" he asked and picked it up to read the blurb. Perhaps in Canada it has more of a direct link to our past than in the US, but I don't think she would be utterly unrecognizable to US readers. This is one occasion where I must strongly advise you not to judge a book by its cover, but to buy this as soon as it is available. You will not regret it!


  1. I'm definitely going to have to look for this once it comes out. I really enjoyed Deafening.

  2. What a great endorsement for the book to say you couldn't put it down. I'll have to be sure to look for it once it comes out even if it ends up with the ugly cover.

  3. Sounds wonderful - I'll be looking for it.

  4. This sounds very good! I enjoyed this author's book Deafening.

  5. You've certainly caught my attention with this review. I am almost always drawn to titles that contain the word "bones" (not delving into the reasoning behind this); I love memoirs and reminiscences - fact or fiction; I've read very few Canadian authors and am interested in reading more. Thanks for another title for my list.

  6. Great review - and a great book! I'm glad I didn't see the orange cover you described. I probably wouldn't have been that interested in it if I had. I love that a young, smiling image of the Queen is on it, although mine did not have the tree.


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