Having finally got to (and through) Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, my next reading port of call was Tristan Hughes‘s Send My Cold Bones Home. This was my book-shaped Christmas present this year from my wife, and it was a very sensible pick. It’s local in more ways than one: a book about Wales written by a Welsh resident author and published by one of this nation’s stellar small presses, Parthian Books. But Hughes is also a Canadian, born in Atikokan, Ontario (home, as I learned to my joy-chagrin, of the White Otter Inn and no immediately other discernable place for coffee). He left as a young child, just as we have translocated some of our Ontario-born children, and the move most definitely stuck for Hughes, though he travels back often. It makes me wonder what perspective my kids will have on Canada as they age. I read Hughes’s most recent book, Hummingbird, a couple of years ago, set in that vast, underpopulated and overmosquitoed territory of northern Ontario, and he’s just as comfortable there as on Anglesey, Ynys Môn. He’s got a broad palette, and I hope they will, too.
Send My Cold Bones Home is a really good follow to Tokarczuk, instantiating in a more traditional novel form the ideas that she riffed on through glimpses, snatches of story, and psychological musings. Here again we have a character unwilling to stand still – perhaps incapable of it. Jonathan Hall was set on this path, we learn, though his unstable father, abetted by his sadly compliant mother. Jonathon’s father,
having built up a new store of debt and dissatisfaction, would simply up sticks and leave, hurtling us (there was only my mother and I) on towards the next destination, all the while accumulating fresh reserves of failure and bitterness in much the same way tourists accumulate mementoes and keepsakes – until each of our new houses was more densely decorated with misery than the last.
This sounds grim, and indeed it is, but Jonathon’s father seems never happier than when he’s taking his family off to the next place, which because it is unknown is therefore quite possibly the best place, whilst what they leave becomes one more in a litany of what he derides as “shitholes”. Jonathon, as soon as he is able, rejects this pattern and leaves home, but of course he also inhabits it, wandering the earth with no real connection to places or people. His mother’s death and the secret of a family cottage on Ynys Môn give him the chance to experiment with another way of living. Continue reading