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The Translation of the Bones

The Translation of the Bones

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Faith or delusion? Fantasy or fact? From the winner of the 2009 Orange New Writers Award comes a profound meditation on the nature of faith and a riveting story of religious passion gone tragically wrong in London.

When word gets out that Mary-Margaret O’Reilly, a somewhat slow-witted but apparently harmless young woman, may have been witness to a miracle, religious mania descends on the Church of the Sacred Heart by the River Thames in Battersea, London. The consequences will be profound, not only for Mary-Margaret herself but for others too—Father Diamond, the parish priest, who is in the midst of his own lonely crisis of faith, and Stella Morrison, adrift in a loveless marriage and aching for her ten-year old son, away at boarding school. Meanwhile another mother, Alice Armitage, counts the days until her soldier son comes home from Afghanistan, and Mary-Margaret’s mother, Fidelma, imprisoned in her tower block, stares out over London through her window for hour after hour with nothing but her thoughts for company.

This is an exquisite novel about passion and isolation, about the nature of belief, about love and motherhood and a search for truth that goes tragically wrong. Mary-Margaret’s desperate attempt to prove that Jesus loves her will change lives in a shocking way. Can anything that is good come out of it; can faith survive sacrifice and pain?

Francesca Kay has crafted a novel that is by turns sly and profound. Her crystalline prose unlocks secrets about our capacity to believe and to love. She is a writer who surprises and delights with her language and her stories.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451636826 | 
  • April 2014
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It’s beyond belief what you find between the pews, Mrs. Armitage was saying. Coins and gloves you might expect, but socks and underwear? Hair clips, buttons, handkerchiefs, and now look at these, these peculiar white pills. She held out her hand to Father Diamond, who looked at it carefully and shook his head. Mrs. Armitage brushed the pills into the plastic rubbish sack beside her and went on: d’you know, the other day there was an old chap in here who was looking for his teeth? I said to him, I said I think you need a dentist not a church. But no, he swore he’d left them here and we had to have a good look round . . .

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Translation of the Bones includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The novel has an impressive cast of characters who see the world in very different ways and yet Kay treats each of them with real compassion. Which characters were most difficult for you to sympathize with and why?

2. What is the significance of the title? Technically speaking, to translate bones is to move holy relics from one resting place to another. What significance do you think the title has in relation to the book?

3. Kay writes beautifully about the ways in which people connect—be it within a family or through the church or a neighborhood—and writes with particular passion about the bond between mothers and their children. What might it be about that relationship, and the different forms it takes, that was so compelling to the author? How did that come across?

4. Late in the novel, Kay evokes Luke 23:29: “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bear, and the breasts that never gave suck. For if the end of loving is sorrow beyond bearing, is it not better from the first to forsw see more

About the Author

Francesca Kay
Mark Alexander

Francesca Kay

Francesca Kay’s first novel, An Equal Stillness, won the Orange Award for New Writers in 2009. She lives in Oxford with her family.

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