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November 2, 2007

Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani

My husband can be very astute at times. Whilst reading Frances Itani’s Remembering the Bones I was raving about the book and he said, “So you like it the same way you like obituaries then?” Exactly. Nothing to do with death at all, but rather for such a celebration of life. It’s The Stone Diaries without the ghost, but also something original, beautiful, gentle and lovely in its own right.

The book begins with Georgina Danforth Witley, 80 years old and on her way to meet the Queen. She has won a contest open to all of those in the Commonwealth who share Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, and this is an unlikely event in the life of a seemingly ordinary woman. Seemingly, of course: if we’ve learned anything from obits it’s that nobody is ordinary. Georgie with her 103 year old mother still living, with the memory of her eccentric salt-of-the-earth grandmother Grand Dan, with her ability to name all the bones in the human body, memorized from her late Grandfather’s Gray’s Anatomy. She has talked to Queen Elizabeth like a friend for all her life. Georgie had a “polio honeymoon”, she understands why people laugh at funerals. Once she witnessed her husband in an act of love and fell in love with him for all time.

All this she remembers while she is supposed to be lunching with the Queen. On her way to the airport, not even far from her own driveway, Georgie loses control of her car and crashes down into a ravine. Broken in the wreckage, unable to move or shout and with nobody coming to find her, Georgie tells the story of her life, from childhood to widowhood. Putting the pieces together, struggling to keep her brain active. Struggling to “remember the bones” she once knew so well, to name them and thus reconstruct herself, and her story. The story of her most extraordinary ordinary life, and my heart was wrung by the joy and the sadness alike.

What happens to Georgie in the end then? Definitely a talking point, with some interesting ambiguity, but I would argue that the ending is the least important thing about all of this. Though I devoured this book rather greedily, it was for the journey all the while. For Georgie’s voice, and Itani’s prose. For this narrative so constructed that the pages fly by like those on a cinematic calendar, whizzing past faster than days go, until you’re at the end, and you’re finished, but what you’re left with is a life.

One thought on “Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani”

  1. Melanie says:

    Very nice review – I also really loved this book.

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