The second week of January is probably too early to pick the best literary novel of the year, but The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay will certainly find a spot high on my personal list by the end of 2012.
This superbly crafted tale of how the child-like faith of mentally disturbed church volunteer Mary Margaret O'Reilly leads to unspeakable tragedy is compelling and profound.
Without spoiling the story, I can only reveal that the when the devout Mary Margaret has an accident while cleaning the crucifix in the chapel of the Sacred Heart church in South London, she believes that she has re-opened the wounds of Christ and that belief drives her to seek redemption which ends in the tragedy. Since the accident and her response to it happened with visitors in the chapel, a sensation ensues which drags the priest struggling with his own faith into the situation.
Although the length of a novel, The Translation of the Bones is so expertly and sparely written that it reads more like a short story. The plot has no loose ends and all of the characters--Mary Margaret, Father Diamond, Mary Margaret's morbidly obese mother Fidelma, and fellow parishioners Stella Morrison and Alice Armitage--are complex and believable.
Francesca Kay is a British author who was won the 2009 Orange Prize for New Writers for her first novel, An Equal Stillness (not yet published in the US). This second work is an inspiring story of faith, loneliness and family relationships which prompts the reader to reflect on these themes after finishing the book.