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Longings of the human heart

22 November 2011


The Translation of the Bones
Francesca Kay

Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

A ROMAN Catholic church in Battersea, where a team of women are cleaning for Easter, and ar­ranging flowers. They are, as in every parish, a diverse bunch: Stella, the wife of a Cabinet minister; Mrs Armitage, the lady who visits the sick; and a young woman of limited mental ability, Mary-Margaret, who lives in a tower block with her housebound mother, Fidelma.

Then something out of the ordinary occurs: Mary-Margaret sees the crucifix move. The news spreads that a miracle has occurred.

The narrative then delves into the consciousness of each of the characters, weaving effortlessly be­tween them. We discover the long­ings of each human heart. Stella craves the company of her youngest child, now at boarding-school; Mrs Armitage is crossing off the days until her son comes home from Afghanistan. Mary-Margaret feels the stirrings of love for the child of a neighbour; and Fidelma, once beautiful, but now no longer so, remembers the love she once knew.

Motherhood is the strand that binds these reflections, along with the imperfect parenthood exercised by the nuns of Fidelma’s youth, and by the parish priest, Fr Diamond.

The author shows us that paren­tal love constantly encounters dif­ficulty; and that the task of priest and religious is the hardest of all. That she should write about such a theme marks her out as daring; and that she writes about it so penetratingly shows her to be wise.

Having achieved an almost con­templative stasis, suddenly, shock­ingly, things fall apart. Here, too, the author shows an assured touch. For some of the characters, life will never be the same again; while for others there is a kind of redemp­tion. Francesca Kay reveals herself as a compassionate and truthful artist in this, her second novel.

Alexander Lucie-Smith

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