Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Bone Dragon

Title: The Bone Dragon 
Author: Alexia Casale 
Publisher: Faber and Faber 
Published: April 2013

The Bone Dragon begins with protagonist Evie coming round from surgery, and we realise quickly that she has been the victim of abuse; Evie’s ribcage is literally shattered, a fact she’s kept secret for years from her adoptive parents. 

Enigmatic and intelligent, Evie conveys the past to us in sideways glances; she keeps us guessing at what happened whilst living with her birth mother and her grandparents, revealing the truth only in snatches and fragments. The Dragon of the title, meanwhile, serves as object, character and metaphor. Carved out of one of Evie’s own ribs, the talisman takes on life in her mind, helping her process her grief and recover strength. Even as she finds happiness and stability with her new family and with friends in school, the cynicism, wit and wisdom of the Bone Dragon also serve as a genteel expression of (as well as fa├žade to) Evie’s deep-seated bitterness and anger. The Dragon presses for revenge – and, ultimately, revenge is taken, making for an ending that is more than a little disquieting. 

It is hard to say more without revealing spoilers, but Evie and those she loves in the book are reeling from grief and damage caused by others. Ultimately, it is not enough for Evie to not act. There is no forgiveness for wrongs in The Bone Dragon, and in this story, anger is not crippling, but an agent of power. The moral implications of the ending are dubious, but nevertheless thought-provoking, and I found this a clever, resonant tale on the darker psychological effects of abuse. It’s another one to stay on the shelf.

(Incidentally, I know I am possibly not meant to feel very sorry for a certain thuggish boy named Sonny at Evie’s school, but knowing that the other name for ‘deadly nightshade’ is ‘belladonna’ … perhaps the point is made in that duel naming, and in his botched giving of that particular flower for Evie!)

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