Title: Bone China
Writer: Laura Purcell
Publishing Books: Raven Books
Date of Publication:September 19th 2019
Rating: 5 stars
”This is the bitterest winter I can recall. Too cold, even for snow. A world washed innocent and white might bring me some comfort, but no – this is the season of sleet and gunmetal skies. Everything is grey and cold. It is like purgatory, like my heart.”
A heavy winter in Cornwall. Frost, mist. Silence. Icy tears on the windowpanes, the murmur of the tireless sea, the silence in a house where the past walks, rattling heavy chains. Two women. Hester Why, escaping from a dangerous position, fragile and susceptible to her demons, finds herself in a house where the sea can be heard through the walls, where locks turn by themselves. Where her mistress refuses to walk, her eyes fixed on a collection of china. Forty years earlier, Louise Pinecroft is trying to help her father with his ambiguous experiments on tuberculosis, the plague of the era. But how can you cope with unknown forces, forged by superstition and a very harsh reality?
”Will-o’-the-wisp. If you follow them, you end up in a bog. People we know drowned that way, Miss Why. Drowned in mud.”
My review cannot do justice to the unique ability of Laura Purcell to create modern masterpieces. Her talent to weave every feature that defines British Gothic Literature and Historical Fiction in a novel with astonishing results is awe-inspiring. In Bone China, the setting couldn’t be more vividly depicted. We’ve seen it in The Silent Companions, we’ve seen it in The Corset. Here, Cornwall becomes a character, the driving force behind the plot. This wild corner of the British Isles provides the perfect background for a haunting, dark story and Laura Purcell makes excellent use of the powerful material. Legends of the fairy folk shared in careful whispers by the members of the household. Bogs, strange cries, dogs barking, staring at the shadows. The wind is coming from the moors, carrying secrets whose roots are deep like the roots of an ash tree that reaches the underworld. Changelings breaking into the world of the mortals. Figurines staring at us, witnessing and waiting.
‘’The wind dies. The curtains slap back into place. Outside I can see the ocean, writing with glee, as if this were all a game.’’
‘’The wind howls and ravens about the house, crashing the branches of the ash trees together. The waves roar back. They are wild creatures, these elements. They will tear one another apart.’’
Apart from the features of Folklore and fable, Laura Purcell poses accurate questions on issues that are extremely ‘’human’’ and tangible. The complications of social hierarchy, the ambiguous bonding between a maid and her mistress. The agony of a doctor who has witnessed his family perish, unable to intervene. The desire of a young woman to follow her vocation and serve Science, free from prejudices. The ethical complexity of the prisoners’ treatment. Is it acceptable to use them as guinea pigs? So you see, Bone China is so much more than a (brilliantly written) Gothic novel.
‘’However, the landscape was a different prospect. She loved the untamed beauty of Cornwall. How it rose, fell and curved. Its vital breath. Even the granite and moorland were not wholly bleak; here and there were flashes of vivid colour. ‘’
The dark beauty that permeates the pages of the book will haunt you. Purcell creates striking images with the foreboding and formidable Cornwall as the background. Louise walking on the beach at night, by the light of the lantern. Hester wandering in the silent corridors. Beautiful, haunting imagery. The prose is spotless, the dialogue transports you to the past and the heart of the action. And the characters…I loved Hester and Louise. I felt I knew them, I found myself understanding their choices and their actions. Purcell is outstanding in giving birth to realistic female protagonists that are quiet and powerful, sensitive and determined, broken and brave. Hester and Louise are no exceptions.
One last thing. Regardless of the genre, this novel is perfect. Plain and simple. If you want your stories neatly wrapped in a box, decorated with a shiny bow and closures where all answers are handed over to you on a silver platter, then a) why? And b) look elsewhere. But if you want to be challenged by a multi-layered story where nothing is as it seems, Purcell’s books are for you.
‘’Waves slap against the cliff face. I close my eyes briefly, picturing them rushing headlong to the place where they break and scatter. What we desire and what we have lost. Are they not always the same?’’