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The Road of Bones

Anne Fine
Jun 2006
“When it’s so cold, breath freezes straight to grains of ice. That rustle comes as they fall around you.”

A hybrid of political concern and an excruciatingly exciting adventure-thriller, Anne Fine’s “The Road of Bones” could easily be described as a Magnum Opus. In it, the politicised nature of childhood is unravelled, a theme that runs central to the whole body of Fine’s work, whether that be in picturebooks for the youngest readers “Poor Monty” or her recent coruscating comedy for adult readers, “Raking the Ashes”.

It is this awareness of the politicised nature of childhood - the very fact that education, social, political, psychological and familial discourses locate it both as pivotal and formative - that give Fine's work such power and weight and that has resulted in their well-deserved standing and stature in the field of children’s literature.

The shadowed stranglehold of depression sweeps an emotional and economic depression across the landscape of “The Road of Bones” in huge drifts, contributing together with the repressive politics and the fear and moral panics surrounding these, to the stifling atmosphere of the novel.

This intrinsic oppression that so characterises this novel might surprise aficionados of Anne Fine’s writing and it is true that “The Road of Bones” represents something of a departure… This is the first book for teenagers set wholly in a historical context (arguably, “The Book of the Banshee” utilises a partially historical context with the analogies made through William Scott Saffery’s “The Longest Summer”), given the intense focus on Yuri, his age, relative inexperience and his forced departure from the family enclave, it is a highly solipsistic novel offering little in the way of redemption or resolve… His eventual assimilation is entirely convincing and is representative of the personal journey Yuri has travelled from the idylls and ideals of childhood to the realism and the need to survive in adulthood.

The importance of contextualising this is paramount. However desperate and extreme the time, the geography and the setting, the novel maintains the avid interest and deeply heartening comment, care and thought into the socio-politics of family life. That Yuri is forced to extract himself from these serves to accentuate their significance rather than to diminish it. The key-role education plays and over-arching all of this, the impact upon both that political systems and ideologies enforces. This is thought-provoking, stimulating and highly engaging food for thought and readers will be left mentally masticating for a long time after completing the novel!

As with any Anne Fine novel, characters will have you hooting with laughter and howling with rage. Fine has an uncanny ability to make her readers squirm, making them turn themselves inside out, burning away layers of ‘self-awareness’ like the most acerbic of acids dripping upon complacency. Grandmother in particular is a delight, a fiercely intelligent amalgam of personal history and folk-tales she brings a dark, scathing humour with her indictments and forthright opinions and views; “Must you always be as wise a tree full of owls?”

Following an accident at the building yard where Yuri works, his anger boils forth in great bubbles of rage forcing him to flee if he is to survive. So begins a quest for escape and freedom that sees the extent of the blight that the politics of his country have caused on its landscape and population unfold in a series of horrifying revelations. The power and scope of this is astounding and literally makes one gasp for breath!

The language here is lyrical and reflective. With assured power, Fine links the intense imagery of landscape with emotions of character in a way that delivers blow after blow to the hearts and minds of her readers. This commands both time and patience to reflect upon fully, a fact in itself that surely is enviable? Wiithout time for consideration how can we ever develop understanding and compassion?

Here is a book that makes you think, that dares you to measure the present against this portrayal of the past that challenges us to strive for more and better things to secure our every future… Here is a novel that in no way diminishes the intellect or capabilities of young people and that makes comment about the highly politicised nature of youth.

An edgy novel that evades ease of definition… "The Road of Bones" is set in a past that could easily read as a politically disenfranchised present... It is set in Russia, but that landscape could be substituted for a bleak view of a climate-changed future… It is set under the repressive rule following the Russian revolution but could easily be a world where civil liberties and personal freedoms have been stripped by reactionary anti-terror measures.

All of this represents a major achievement for a ‘children’s literature’ that continues to be viewed as something that is only capable of frivolity and light-heartedness, it is also an achievement that brings about consideration as to the politicised nature of education and childhood… This is not a depressingly dark novel, but rather an imperative message of awareness gleaned from a past of inhumane denial and desperation. “The Road of Bones” might be cold in setting, but at heart it glows with an intensity of warmth, passion, fervour and belief, it is THE novel that all should resolve to read.


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