Bone House
Betsy Tobin
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Buy *Bone House* online

Bone House
Betsy Tobin
224 pages
February 2001
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In a remote village in seventeenth-century England, a sudden death stuns the population. Dora, the village prostitute and larger than life in stature, personality and reputation, came from “across the sea." This generously proportioned woman finds a place in the hearts of all the villagers, becomes a staple in their daily lives -- until her lifeless body is found in a ravine. It appears accidental, but her hidden pregnancy arouses the town’s suspicion.

Dora leaves behind a son, Long Boy, an oversized eleven-year-old with the mind of a child and the body of a man. Long Boy is now left to fend for himself, although the neighboring midwife, a friend of Dora’s, steps into to temporarily fill the void.

After the trauma of the unexpected death and shocking events afterward, a young chambermaid who is the daughter of the midwife begins her own quiet investigation of Dora’s demise, using her virtual invisibility to eavesdrop on conversations that may lead her to answers. Her intuition suggests that something is seriously amiss.

The girl begins surveillance of Edward, the master of the Great House where she works whose body is twisted by birth defects, and his mother, the girl’s aged and dying mistress. Added to the cast of eccentric villagers, servants and the privileged is a young man engaged by the mistress to paint her portrait. Without the mistress’ knowledge, Edward requests Dora’s likeness in miniature, suggesting the young maid as a guide in recreating the woman’s face.

There is an aura of mystery in this small Elizabethan village, clearly a place haunted by religious paranoia and a pervasive fear of “Satan” and his minions. In fact, villagers commonly murmur of witches and their familiars, whispering together of recent sightings of the deceased prostitute. Village life is constrained by strict moral convention. This remote society is far from the sophistication of a city, even more vulnerable to the fears that spread like shockwaves through their humble homes.

Mysteries are not well tolerated in such isolation, as minds are riddled by superstition and suspicion. When no easy answers are found for the cause of Dora’s death, the magistrate gathers damning testimony, leveling accusations of witchcraft at the girl’s mother. The only one who can save her mother, the young woman summons her fortitude, displaying unexpected perseverance to confront the ugly realities in her family history, at home and in the Great House. The truth is, after all, more complicated than expected, revealing shocking secrets. Even the portrait painter has an obscure tale to tell, then expresses his romantic intentions and the simple housemaid finds the world opening up before her. As for Dora, “She did not choose fate, but created it.”

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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