Tuesday, February 28, 2023


Dymphna Nugent’s weekly book review for the Waterford News & Star in conjunction with The Book Centre, John Roberts Square

SUMMER, 2021 and Nell has come home at her family’s insistence, to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote ‘The Golden Bones’. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.
The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse.
But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose.

This ambitious writing style is very Erin Kelly, an author whose work I always enjoy. The story is told through alternating time frames and while it eventually all ties up, it made it very difficult initially, I was skipping back through pages to remind myself who people were. The characters are flawed, often hedonistic people, living a lavish lifestyle and shrouded in secrecy and undertones of deceit. I enjoy the character development immensely, although initially Nell was a little more difficult to like.

The women at the heart of the story are strong, but the men they are surrounded by always seem to emerge stronger. An unspoken tradition of silencing women is inherent in this work, Lal silences them through alcohol fuelled violence, and Frank silences them through manipulation and apparent charm.

The Bonehunters intensify in their hunger to rebuild Elinore, in many ways Nell herself feels as though she needs rebuilding, and the Lally and Churcher families grit their teeth and hang on as they become public property, part of this need to right the wrongs of the past.

This book will not be for everyone, but fans of works like Cloud Atlas and the Bone Clocks will enjoy this. I enjoyed it but I’m only sorry that I didn’t save it for a holiday read because it is not designed to be picked up and dropped every day.

Dymphna Nugent contributes reviews to the Irish Examiner, the Irish Times, and the Waterford News & Star

By Dymphna Nugent
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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