The protagonist of The Bone Flower, Edward Monteith, is a wealthy young man who, at the beginning of this deliciously chilling novel, is living a life without purpose in Victorian London. His mother died in childbirth. His father is distant and mostly disinterested in his only child, so long as no shame is brought on the carefully constructed family name. Having completed his education there is little for Edward to do each day other than attend the exclusive club his father insisted he join, a habit that helps assuage his ennui and loneliness. Here he listens in on the conversations of the other men who frequent the place, believing himself unobserved.
“They were of various ages and professions, or of good enough family to have no profession, and were united less by common interests than by their common standing, of which club membership was a guarantee.”
Edward is taken under the wing of an eclectic group of gentlemen. Frederick Bell is a qualified doctor who feels no compunction to practice medicine. Rickman is an explorer who entertains any who care to listen with tales from his exploits in Africa. Arthur Poynter describes himself as both an optimist and a sceptic, seeking out the mystical in hope of finding no fraud in what is being presented as macabre, if popular, entertainment. It is he who introduces Daniel Giles, a recently arrived American who becomes Edward’s friend. Giles suggests an outing to a music hall, outside of which Edward first encounters a beautiful young woman.
The woman is selling flowers, a lowly trade, but Edward is mesmerised. Unable to shake the memory of her, he is delighted to come across her again at a séance the group of men subsequently attend. From here the pair arrange to meet and begin a passionate affair. Edward believes himself deeply in love but recognises his father would strongly disapprove of his paramour, and this could affect his inheritance. With no skills or trade to fall back on, such a prospect appears untenable.
Events come to a head when Edward foolishly puts his trust in Bell. Desperate to escape from the consequences, Edward and his trusted valet, George, travel across Europe. By the time they return to London a couple of years later, Edward has married. The young couple settle in Highgate but can find no happy ever after despite love now being reciprocated.
“The dead are always with us”
The story being told is cleverly constructed with elements of horror and the fear of ghostly possession. Guilt may feed the imagination but not everything in life has a logical explanation. Differing cultural beliefs may be misinterpreted as witchcraft and condemned. The author is skilful in building a shadowy atmosphere and introducing fearful elements around the beautiful and everyday.
The horror of the penultimate scenes linger through the denouement – will sweetness turn to rot before the final page? The reader is trusted to remember small, uncanny occurrences that were briefly mentioned.
An evocative reminder that not everything a person was will necessarily end when they die. A spooky season love story layered with justified disquiet.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic Books.