The Translation of the Bones
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The Translation of the Bones

3.22 of 5 stars 3.22  ·  rating details  ·  239 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Reality or delusion? Fantasy or fact? When word gets out that Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a slow-witted but apparently harmless young woman, may have been witness to a miracle, religious mania descends on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea. The consequences will be profound, not only for Mary-Margaret but for others too - Father Diamond, the parish priest, who is in t...more
Hardcover, 213 pages
Published August 25th 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published 2011)
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The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe Song of Achilles by Madeline MillerState of Wonder by Ann PatchettGillespie and I by Jane  HarrisThe Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Orange Prize For Fiction Longlist 2012
11th out of 20 books — 139 voters
The Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittBefore I Go To Sleep by S.J. WatsonWhen God Was a Rabbit by Sarah WinmanThe Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
Man Booker Prize Eligible 2011
130th out of 154 books — 254 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jane
The Translation of the Bones, Francesca Kay’s second novel, is a quiet book.

It paints pictures of lives, and it shows how those lives are changed by one event.

And it is a powerful book.

It says a great deal about the importance of faith and the huge significance of motherhood.

At the heart of the story is Mary-Margaret O’Reilly. A young woman, a little slow-witted and very devout. Mary-Margaret is one of a team of ladies who regularly clean the Church of the Sacred Heart, near her home in Batterse...more
Teresa
Francesca Kay won the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2009 for her first novel, An Equal Stillness, a fictional biography of a female artist.

In The Translation of the Bones she explores new territory, setting her story in a quiet Roman Catholic parish in Battersea, London - well, perhaps things are not as they seem and the peace and calm belies a whirlwind of emotions and tumultuous questions about faith, organised religion, relationships especially those between mothers and their offspring.

Mar...more
Paul Pessolano
“The Translation of the Bones” by Francesca Kay, published by Scribner.

Category – Fiction/Literature

This is an unusual book, both in the writing and the content. Francesca Kay is English and it is written in the European style. There are many English words that will be very foreign to American readers and, at times, the story becomes very descriptive and wordy.

The story takes place in a small town in Great Britain and centers around a small Catholic Church and its community.

Mary-Margaret O’Reill...more
Eve
To be honest, I nearly gave up on this otherwise acclaimed novel about two-thirds of the way through. It was just too upsetting...but given its themes, I continued in hope of a miracle that would set things right in this fictional story. In the end I hated it, really, even though the writing was beautiful in places. It was a short book and yet left me exhausted. No stars offered.
Nicola Mansfield
Reason for Reading: The Catholic plot intrigued me as well as the author being an Orange Prize winner.

This is a story of faith; of faith tested, lost, denied, renewed and tragically misplaced. The story is dark and it is sad but it is not without hope and redemption. A short book, it makes for a quick read and the book is more about characters than it is about action. A couple of events take place and the majority of the book then ruminates on how the characters react to and deal with those even...more
Katie
This one was not for me.

I’m going to attempt to keep this review very short. I did not like The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay at all. Not even a little. The book aims to tell the tale of what happens when a somewhat slow-witted but harmless young woman, Mary-Margaret witnesses a miracle, maybe. Religious mania descends on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, London. The consequences are devastating, not only for Mary-Margaret but for others, including Father Diamond, the pari...more
Pamela Todd
The Translation of the Bones is wonderfully written – a fresh new novel to shake the cobwebs off and introduce readers to something a bit different.

The style for one thing, is genius. No chapters, no dialogue tags and skips between multiple POVS. For a lot of writers, this would be catastrophic. Francesca Kay pulls it off effortlessly. She places you firmly inside the hearts and minds of her characters; their fears and delusions almost becoming your own.

Mary-Margaret O’Reilly is at the centre of...more
Tina Marie
Knowing that the title refers to the movement of holy relics, I have to say I anticipated a slightly different story. But on the other hand, relics bring to my mind pilgrims. I can't help thinking about *The Canterbury Tales* when I consider the meaning of the title. All of the characters in the story revolve in various orbits around the church where a miracle may or may not have happened. Rather than introducing us to the various characters going on a pilgrimage, Kay gives life to a small cast...more
Candice
A very well-written story of faith and the world we live in. Much of the book is a character study of four women, all connected to Sacred Heart Church in Battersea, London. Alice Armitage is counting the days until her son, Fraser, returns from Afghanistan. Stella Morrison excitedly awaits her 10-year-old son, Felix's return from boarding school. Fidelma O'Reilly, a morbidly obese woman who has not left her apartment in years, contemplates her sad past. But the main story is that of her daughter...more
Scrappy LeMonte
I took the title to allude to casting bones as in divination, and did some Google searches. I found that a Bone Diviner will gather a collection of objects, for example a gemstone, a twig, a chicken bone, a shell, a crystal. Each object will represent something else, for example, family, love, traveling. You pick up all the objects in your collection, and cast them, or throw them gently. Then you can read meaning in how they land.

I think that is a good interpretation of the book. We are introduc...more
Bachyboy
I struggled to like this book. The idea of witnessing a miracle in the Catholic Church really interests me but I found the character of Mary-Margaret very unappealing and the book made me feel low spirited most of the time. The shocking outcome at the end of the book is hard to stomach and I won't be recommending this.
Teresa
This is a painful and difficult book to read. I found it made me feel very low spirited every time I picked it up as if all those joyless, painful lives were sucking all joy out of the reader along with their suffering. The writing was very good but the subject matter was difficult and perhaps a read for when you are feeling strong. The star rating totally inadequate here as I cannot rate it in terms of like or dislike.
Anne Van
An interesting short novel of ideas, the writer sets up 5 or 6 people who confront the meaning of truth vs. faith, adore vs. love. It's set in London, so, of course, I liked it.
Marvin
For much of this novel, I thought I was reading a fairly standard lightweight English novel about the various people, especially women, associated with a parish church during Lent, though with particularly evocative prose about these people's everyday lives & responsibilities as they anticipate--or fear--a miracle--or a terrible tragedy--breaking into their rather mundane lives. The author is particularly good with the mothers' feelings. And the humble parish priest is rendered entirely symp...more
Diane
The Church of the Sacred Heart in London takes center stage in Translation of the Bones, a moving story about how different individuals deal with issues like faith, loss and grief.

Mary Margaret O'Reilly is a 33 year-old woman, childlike in thought and action. She lives at home with her morbidly obese, housebound mother, Fidelma. One day, in preparation for Easter week services, she is cleaning a statue of Christ, and while doing this, she believes she sees blood coming from Christ's wounds, taki...more
Sam
The Translation of the Bones is the first of the books from the Orange Prize long-list for 2012 that I have read, although I plan to read many more. The story centres around Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a woman with learning difficulties who claims to see blood on a statue of Jesus whilst she is cleaning her local church in Battersea, London. Despite Father Diamond's best efforts, this 'miracle' becomes a bit of a sensation and it sets off a spiral of events that will have devastating effects for the...more
Sophia
Translation of the Bones explores themes of motherhood, religion and community, and follows a group of people who are all connected with the catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in London. The parishoners are led by Father Diamond, a devout and good-hearted priest who is in charge of the full running of the church while its main guardian, Father O'Connor, is away.

One day Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a volunteer at the church, is polishing the figure of Christ on the cross when she has a fall and hits...more
Tze-Wen
[This review was originally posted on my blog.]

One of the themes in The Translation of the Bones is the Catholic belief system and the different degrees of faith held by the protagonists in the book. Father Diamond, a former mathematician who succumbed to the inevitability of his calling, often wonders whether he will ever live up to the requirements of his job. A firm believer he might be, it is not easy for him to conveying love and acceptance without any discrimination. Slightly down the scal...more
Denise Sparrowhawk
A beautifully written and carefully observed book. The characters at times seem to be sketchily drawn, and yet at the end of the book I felt I knew each one of them. The details of their lives were not embellished upon, things are hinted at, and when necessary explanations are given. The story unfolds from the thoughts and observations of each character like a jigsaw. Each one revealing a little
more of the picture. It is a heartbreakingly tender depiction of motherhood and a frightening revelat...more
MB
From the book cover:

"A riveting story of religious passion gone tragically wrong."
Yup. In spades.

"When word gets out that Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a somewhat slow-witted but harmless young woman, may have been witness to a miracle, religious mania descends on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, London."
Not mentioned-the sly dig at social media's roll in the mania.

"Slyly funny, utterly haunting and nothing short of unforgettable."
The only part I would disagree with is slyly funny. It's cl...more
Elaine Hayes
I'm not enjoying this book... my mind keeps drifting. It's just not holding my attention but more than anything it's depressing & miserable!
Im amazed... There is a twist, shockingly & very unexpected. Now Ive finished reading it my mind keeps drifting back to it, bizarre!
Carol Peace
I struggled a bit with this one. I found it bit slow at first, Mary Margaret is obsessed with the church and feels sure she has witnessed a miracle. She takes it upon herself to test this when it seems that there will be no 'follow - up'.
Stella is strugling in her marriage and her young son Felix seems to be awaiting the Easter holidays. These people are inexplicably entertwined and what follows tests everyones faith.
Patti
This is a disturbing book that examines the interconnected lives of the members of a small Catholic parish in London.
Through one deluded character's actions, we enter a world of faith tested, lives twisted and hidden, and are forced to confront life's central questions.
What is the role of religion, childhood, and love in forming who we area s individuals and as a community?
I was mesmerized. Every note rang true.
Andrea
This book is making an attempt at reconciling or explaining religious guilt but the nuances of that combined with British and Irish customs and traditions is a bit much for my taste. I got one third of the way through it and stopped. After I put a book down more than 3 times, I know I am not going to finish it. Francesca Kay is a good writer and I might try another one of her books, just not now.
Colette Coen
Interesting characters in this tail of the week before Easter and strange events at a church in Battersea. Has a miracle happened or is the young woman who witnessed it mad? Thought-provoking stuff as the various churchgoers and the priest all have different perspectives on faith. Makes you question what you believe yourself, and how you would react in a similar situation.
Karen
It took me a surprisingly long time to finish this novella--maybe because the unmet needs of each character are so painfully articulated and vividly described. Not a light read for a slim volume, but worth the effort. I know I'll be thinking about it for the next few days. For now, I'm off to the NYPL to return the book and pay the overdue fines.
Cynthia Archer
I found this story fascinating. Why I liked it is hard to really put into words, but I particularly enjoyed the mix of sacred and secular. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an appreciation for faith and our need for it because of human failure. It is a redeeming story in spite of the grief suffered all the characters.
Ellen


While I wasn't over-the-moon crazy about the story or the characters, I found this woman's writing to be beautifully descriptive. While most of the time I'm against over-describing appearances or actions, Ms. Kay did it extremely well. I've never heard better descriptions of morbidly obese women in my life!
Vinnie
A beautifully written story about how belief manifests itself so differently from person to person and his this subsequently effects each individual's experiences. Thoroughly horrible to contemplate some of the plot but completely believable in the context of the characters' interpretations of faith.
Gayla Bassham
Liked but didn't love. Reminded me of The Submission in that it is very much a high concept novel. I did like it better than The Submission, though. Strong writing throughout, but Stella and her son struck me as a bit cliched and I never felt that Kay really got inside any of her characters.
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