Book Review: Bone Memories by Sally Piper

About the Book:

Even though sixteen years have passed, Billie will never recover from the murder of her daughter, Jess, and clings to her memory — and the site of her death — like a life raft. Daniel, who was a toddler when his mother was killed, can recall little of what happened but knows if he’s to have any chance of a better future he needs to move on from that defining event – if only his grandmother would let him. Meanwhile Daniel’s stepmother, Carla, also feels trapped by Jess’s legacy but has a plan that she believes will help everyone to escape from the long shadow of the past.

Deeply human, evocative and beautifully written, Bone Memories explores themes of human connection and the memorialisation of place.

Published by UQP

Released 31st May 2022

My Thoughts:

This was a novel that spoke to me on a very deep level. The lines of trauma and grief intersecting within the story and laying down roots into the ground upon which the family lived, tying them to a place that was both shrine and millstone. Told from three perspectives, Sally Piper comprehensively explores the passage of grief, with a particular focus upon time and place. How long should we grieve for? Should there even be a time limit? What if our grief begins to harm those around us? Can anyone really tell another person that it’s time to let go? How much should we emotionally invest in a place where a person has died? I loved how she explored all these questions through the themes of the novel and gave each differing perspective empathetic weight.

We have Daniel, who lost his mother when he was a toddler, a witness to a murder he cannot remember:

‘People claimed they abhorred violence but then had a perverse fascination with it. Imagine is a word he’d heard used around him a lot. Imagine the mother, the boy, the fear, his dreams, the killer still out there. The flashbacks. The memories. (If only there were more.) Strangers inserting themselves into the script of his life from the comfort of a lounge chair or over a coffee or beer. But no matter how wild or colourful their imaginations, no matter how vivid or gory the details they conjured, they didn’t have a clue. Only those whose lives had been touched by violence understood the shame and guilt and mistrust. And the periods of blind fucking rage.’

Billie, a mother who understandably cannot let it go, her daughter’s murder still unsolved sixteen years on:

‘She was victim and survivor. The one left behind. Her trauma rippled out from the origins of that one event – that man, that knife, his intent – just as seismic waves rippled from deep within Earth, sometimes undetected but always exerting a force, realigning lives and making people do and say things they might not otherwise. Billie felt the tremor of her trauma most days. Sometimes so strongly that it nearly knocked her off her feet. At other times it was a subtle as a breath.’

And Carla, the woman who is now living in Jess’s house, married to her husband and stepmother to her son:

‘The circumstances of Jess’s death meant she was above criticism. Could do no wrong in the eyes of those she’d left behind. Any arguments she might have caused, any harsh words she might have said, any act of unkindness no matter how large, were all forgiven and forgotten long ago. Meanwhile, Carla had to turn up every day and be as good as, if not better than, a dead woman. That was what she hated, not Jess: the sometimes fraudulent nature of her own existence. Because she wasn’t always good or kind. Not in thought or action.’

Other themes explored deal with women as victims and how they are represented by the media, an issue that is ongoing and problematic:

‘At least there was no blame directed at Jess in these reports. Not the way it was for some murdered girls, for the young sex worker, Susannah, whose life had been reduced to an occupation. Her daughter might have been killed in a park, but it was in broad daylight, a mother and her child – sacrosanct. Wearing a too-big pink t-shirt over floral yoga pants. Not asking for anything. Billie wondered if this contributed to the national outpouring of grief? That there were certain standards, a kind of hierarchy, to take into consideration for the murdered. If so, Jess was at the top of it. The blameless victim.’

Bone Memories was for me, a magnificent novel. I felt so much whilst reading it and the story has lingered within me even more than a week on from finishing. The ending had a haunting inevitability to it that seemed as though it could not have played out any other way. I have so much love for this novel and respect for Sally Piper for digging in deep into the corners of grief, shaking it out, and giving us much to contemplate.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Bone Memories by Sally Piper

  1. I’ve almost reached my saturation point with books about grief, but I thought was a well-handled… except that I did not like the ending. I won’t detail why here lest it spoil the novel for others, but I thought that ultimately it was selfish, just adding to the grief of the others.

    Liked by 1 person

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