Hello and welcome to my stop on the Blog Tour for Stephanie Bretherton’s debut novel Bone Lines. It’s been great reading the other bloggers’ reviews on this wonderful novel. Bone Lines was on my TBR list for a while after I came across Stephanie’s twitter and saw the striking image of DNA representing the novel, but I was too nervous to ask about reviewing it. Imagine my delight when Stephanie got in contact, thank you so much! I have to admit I was slightly nervous about reading something I had been sent in case I didn’t like it, however luckily I didn’t have to deal with that situation, as you will be able to tell from my following review, I bloody loved this book and am looking forward to Stephanie’s future novels. A big thank you also to Anne Cater for organising another great tour!
The plot: A woman is making a journey, precarious but driven by visions, through the wild landscape, and alone except for her young child and endless dangers. Simultaneously, 74000 years later, geneticist Eloise is trying to work out who that woman was from her partial skeleton, whilst contemplating life’s big questions, writing letters to Charles Darwin, being a bit rubbish with men, and spending time with her cat, perfectly named Newton.
Type of book: ‘Ambitious and brave yet effortlessly pulled off’
The author: Stephanie Bretherton, debut novelist who has written Bone Lines as a stand-alone novel but also is planned as part of a series ‘The Children of Sarah’ – which is very nearly a most wonderful name.
What appealed to me…I love natural history and the author described Bone Lines as ‘genre fluid’ (and it really is, or perhaps she has managed to create a new genre?)
It’s a bit like…the essence of Sapiens (a little known book by Yuval Noah Harari), seen through the eyes of two fierce and admirable women.
You’ll want to read this if…you like your stories with a bit of mystery (Who was the person whose skeleton is found? What is the meaning of life? Why doesn’t Eloise tell Darius to piss off?)
You shouldn’t read it if…you don’t really like thinking much
The wonderful stuff…Eloise is fierce and compassionate, and demonstrates that a woman need not be a mother or a partner to do and enjoy wonderful things in life. She has a way of looking at things objectively in a biological sense that is so refreshingly rational, and seeks answers through scientific reasoning to things such as childlessness and suicide, even tears and sexual desire but also considers alternative arguments to theories that underpin her work, the novel being a brief overview of the conflicts between science and religion. Whilst Eloise is thinking big, the dual narrative of her life in London and that of hunter gatherer Sarah is rather poignant, and, whether intentional or not, as a reader I found myself thinking about human progress and who out of the two women has the ‘better’ life. For all that Eloise comes to discover about Sarah, there is a sense that the things that really mattered in Sarah’s life are things that Eloise can never, will never, know. Yet, it’s awesome that a novel delves into biology and all the interesting questions it raises that can be addressed, and I’ve not come across many novels that are so unashamedly sciencey, yet doesn’t alter life beyond recognition that sci fi, long being the only option for geeks, often does. Hurrah, my A Level in Biology finally came in handy.
The not as good stuff…Eloise contemplates pretty much every one of the big questions in life, but neglects a troubling one: jam first or cream first on scones? (Perhaps Eloise will consider this in the second novel, for there is only so much a woman can muse over in one book) Eloise does get a bit too contemplative at times and I was sometimes a bit lost, the kind of lost where you don’t know where you are but still think the scenery is pretty. Also, thank God – oops, don’t tell Eloise – I was reading on a Kindle, as I’ve never needed the built in dictionary so much as with this novel (says more about my reading age than the author’s writing style though, to be fair)
‘Social Housing, she mused…How much fun, how much freedom could any creature (human or canine) have here?’...As a child in the 90s who grew up in social housing, I can confirm that much fun was had and the freedom of safety greatly enjoyed – I don’t think the same could be said of canines however. Or felines. Or equines.
The best way to enjoy this book…with a coffee and a brownie in the Natural History Museum’s cafe, hopefully after you’ve bought the novel in their shop and hopefully without a woman in a red beret watching you.
Most surprising nugget of wisdom from Bone Lines: ‘In the unexpected encounter between a camera case and a shin bone, the shin will come off considerably worse.’
Basically: Bone Lines is a novel that can be appreciated in so many different ways and on numerous levels. It appeals to the geek in me, it had me rooting for these two incredible women, and kept me curious right through to the more than satisfying end with it’s subtle plot. I’ve highlighted enough scientific terms to keep me Googling for a week, keen to spend longer exploring Eloise’s trails of thought. Opening up new worlds is what powerful fiction does best, and with courageous women at its heart, it’s a brilliant read.
Bone Lines is published on 19th September by Unbound. Thank you to Stephanie Bretherton for the ARC (Thank you also for your kind words of support and for putting me in touch with Anne Cater)
A young woman walks alone through a barren landscape in a time before history, a time of cataclysmic natural change. She is cold, hungry and with child but not without hope or resources. A skilful hunter, she draws on her intuitive understanding of how to stay alive… and knows that she must survive.
In present-day London, geneticist Dr Eloise Kluft wrestles with an ancient conundrum as she unravels the secrets of a momentous archaeological find. She is working at the forefront of contemporary science but is caught in the lonely time-lock of her own emotional past.
Bone Lines is the story of two women, separated by millennia yet bound by the web of life. A tale of love and survival – of courage and the quest for wisdom – it explores the nature of our species and asks what lies at the heart of being human.
Although partly set during a crucial era of human history 74,000 years ago, Bones Lines is very much a book for our times. Dealing with themes from genetics, climate change and migration to the yearning for meaning and the clash between faith and reason, it also paints an intimate portrait of who we are as a species. The book tackles some of the big questions but requires no special knowledge of any of the subjects to enjoy.
Alternating between ancient and modern timelines, the story unfolds through the experiences of two unique characters: One is a shaman, the sole surviving adult of her tribe who is braving a hazardous journey of migration, the other a dedicated scientist living a comfortable if troubled existence in London, who is on her own mission of discovery.
The two are connected not only by a set of archaic remains but by a sense of destiny – and their desire to shape it. Both are pioneers, women of passion, grit and determination, although their day to day lives could not be more different. One lives moment by moment, drawing on every scrap of courage and ingenuity to keep herself and her infant daughter alive, while the other is absorbed by work, imagination and regret. Each is isolated and facing her own mortal dangers and heart-rending decisions, but each is inspired by the power of the life force and driven by love.
Bone Lines stands alone as a novel but also marks the beginning of the intended ‘Children of Sarah’ series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Who do you think you are? A daunting question for the debut author… but also one to inspire a genre-fluid novel based on the writer’s fascination for what makes humanity tick. Born in Hong Kong to expats from Liverpool (and something of a nomad ever since) Stephanie is now based in London, but manages her sanity by escaping to any kind of coast
Before returning to her first love of creative writing, Stephanie spent much of her youth pursuing alternative forms of storytelling, from stage to screen and media to marketing. For the past fifteen years Stephanie has run her own communications and copywriting company specialised in design, architecture and building. In the meantime an enduring love affair with words and the world of fiction has led her down many a wormhole on the written page, even if the day job confined such adventures to the weekends.
Drawn to what connects rather than separates, Stephanie is intrigued by the spaces between absolutes and opposites, between science and spirituality, nature and culture. This lifelong curiosity has been channelled most recently into her debut novel, Bone Lines. When not bothering Siri with note-taking for her next books and short stories, Stephanie can be found pottering about with poetry, or working out what worries/amuses her most in an opinion piece or an unwise social media post. Although, if she had more sense or opportunity she would be beachcombing, sailing, meditating or making a well-disguised cameo in the screen version of one of her stories. (Wishful thinking sometimes has its rewards?)
Twitter : @BrethertonWords