Writing a plot summary for The Cutting Room is difficult – the novel doesn’t follow the chronology of its events. Putting them in chronological order...moreWriting a plot summary for The Cutting Room is difficult – the novel doesn’t follow the chronology of its events. Putting them in chronological order for a plot summary feels disingenuous, because that’s not a proper reflection of how the novel feels to me. But all summaries and reviews are inaccurate in some way; keeping that in mind I might as well go ahead.
Lucinda is a cutter. She doesn’t cut herself with blades – she cuts and edits film – but the sense of menace and the hint at harm and self-harm are not to be ignored. For the second time in their marriage, Lucinda’s husband Amir has disappeared. The first time he went to do ‘research’, and left without saying a word to her, only sending an sms to say that he was ok. This time, Lucinda suspects that Amir has actually left her for good, although she has no way of knowing for sure because he hasn’t communicated with her at all. Their marriage had become strained, and Lucinda finds Amir too inscrutable to understand what exactly has gone wrong. Is it her fault, or is it something else?
Lonely and frustrated, she fills her days with work, dinner parties, and nights with trendy, pretty boys at bars in Long Street, Cape Town. Her nosy, paranoid neighbour keeps worrying about how vulnerable she and Lucinda are, as two women living alone in the crime-ridden Cape. Lucinda finds this annoying, but one night she is attacked with a knife in her bedroom.
Trying to get on with her life, Lucinda joins an old friend on his latest project – a documentary about a supposedly haunted house in the small town of Heuwelhoek. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, and yet the house draws parallels with the figurative ghosts in her own life, and the problems that continue to haunt her.
As I mentioned, the actual story isn’t as linear as this plot summary. To read it is not so much to read a story in the traditional sense but to view a collage of characters, relationships and themes. The narrative jumps back and forth between pasts and presents, Cape Town and Heuwelhoek. In the present, Lucinda tries to live a life where Amir – like her own safety – is an uncertainty. When it segues to the past, we see the before and during of their marriage. At times the narrative goes back even further, to Lucinda’s childhood. The haunted house in Heuwelhoek has its own narrative arc, with stories told about the various people who lived there.
In this way, this novel has multiple facets. It’s an intimate psychological study of Lucinda. It’s depicts her understanding of her relationship with Amir. It’s a supernatural mystery with a touch of horror. It’s a tapestry of life in Cape Town, a mixing pot of cultures and histories but also a “Janus-faced city” (17) with its combination of wealth and poverty. It’s a story about intruders, whether they’re criminals breaking and entering in the city of Cape Town, or ghosts disrupting homes and lives.
For four years, 14-year-old Evie has been living with broken ribs after being abused by her grandparents. Although she was adopted by Amy...moreRating: 7/10
For four years, 14-year-old Evie has been living with broken ribs after being abused by her grandparents. Although she was adopted by Amy and Paul, who proved to be loving, devoted parents, it took three years before she trusted them enough to tell them about the pain and what it meant. When the novel opens she wakes up in hospital after her operation. As a memento, the doctor gives her the piece of rib that they removed. When she goes home to recover, Evie’s Uncle Ben suggests she make something out of the piece of rib, and she decides on a dragon – her ideal pet. Uncle Ben carves the bone into shape and Evie spends her recovery time etching scales and other details into the bone.
She only wishes her dragon could be real: “my chest was tight with longing. If I had a dragon, I’d never be powerless again”. And, inexplicably, Evie’s desperate wish comes true – the dragon comes to life at night and becomes her tiny but powerful guardian. Under the dragon’s direction, Evie sneaks out of the house at night and roams the almost mystical marshland of her neighbourhood. It is the dragon’s way of helping her heal and come to terms with the abuse and neglect she has suffered. But the dragon has a mysterious plan too, and he’s guiding Evie in the preparations for it. There is unfinished business that Evie cannot handle on her own, and that Paul, Amy and Ben could never handle for her.
At first glance, The Bone Dragon looks like a fantasy novel, but in truth it’s more a psychological drama that walks a fine line between fantasy and realism. At the borderline is the dragon – we never know if it really comes to life or if it’s only a product of Evie’s imagination and desperation. Initially it seems real, and indeed the simplest interpretation of this story is that the dragon comes to life. But as the story progresses you realise that Evie isn’t doing anything that she couldn’t do by herself. The dragon is certainly real to her in some way, but it might simply be a psychological tool, a means of pushing herself do dangerous, daring things, or another persona that does things the original Evie can’t or won’t. Whether she’s conscious of this psychological split is debatable; both possibilities are equally unsettling.
It does however, make The Bone Dragon one of the most sophisticated and psychologically compelling YA novels I’ve encountered. As I read, and then as I went through my review notes and re-considered the story, I was increasingly impressed by the psychology of Evie’s character. Some of the flaws that had bothered me actually became less significant as I admired the novel’s strengths.