Publication Date: November 9, 2013
Old Bones by Ian Roberts is a story of two families, one Jewish and one Catholic, who forge a friendship in politically tense London in the early part of the twentieth century.
The author, Ian Roberts, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
Old Bones is smart fiction. As a reader that enjoys and is educated in history, I had not read about the specific events outlined in the novel so I can’t say where fact ends and fiction begins. The author gives us a stranger than fiction tale written in a way that leaves the reader wanting to find out more. Roberts’s true strength shines in the narrative of the novel and is perhaps one of the few cases where I can’t imagine showing us events would be as effective as telling us. On top of its educational aspect, Roberts presents his readers with social and moral conundrums of the day in the unlikely pairing of the Jewish and Catholic families.
On page 43 of the novel, Yaakov Burim says that “(Jews should know that) History is a long game.” The simple wisdom of that statement and the way it played out in the story of Old Bones stunned this reader. Roberts’s story runs the gamut of life events and emotions. The characters experience love and loss, happiness and pain, forgiveness and vengeance. The characters are fully fitting for their time and there are progressive thinkers among them, letting the reader know that there is hope in their long game. The author has created a number of characters to live their lives with the backdrop of history and manages to keep them all unique and expertly characterized. As with meeting large families in real life, there’s confusion as to who is who and how they’re related, but as we get to know them, the reader settles into familiar comfort of a character well acquainted.
Robert’s depiction of the real historical figure Oswald Mosley is especially interesting and I sought out this character online shortly after closing the novel. While Mosley may be little known on this side of the Atlantic, he was a man who was on track to change England in what would have been terrifying. In looking for his place in the political world, Oswald recognized that Hitler had made mistakes but appreciated the success he’d experienced without resorting to any sort of violence in establishing his party. Roberts’s depicts Mosley’s complex political ideas as an idealistic nature with a somewhat misguided trajectory as it embraced fascism.
There are a number of plot points and characters that could be discussed. Old Bones is a long novel with a lot of history and a number of characters. The setting and feel of the time are beautifully portrayed. The romance of the novel is courtly and appropriate. The feel is of a full picture of an important time in English history.
The forgotten history of Old Bones is perhaps this novel’s finest virtue. The novel is written with the pen of the historian and the heart of the storyteller. Readers who are not interested in history may enjoy the pathos of this novel. Readers may also note that this review is overwhelmingly positive and that is because I have no criticism of this work. In thinking back over this masterful work, there is simply nothing negative to be said.
If you like historically based novels, read an excerpt and buy Old Bones by Ian Roberts on