Bone House

By Betsy Tobin
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9780743201964, 224pp.)

Publication Date: February 2001

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Description
Gothic, elegant, and suspenseful, "Bone House" vividly evokes seventeenth-century rural England. It is the tale of two women. One is Dora -- large, voluptuous, and charismatic -- a prostitute to whom men are drawn for pleasure, women for friendship. Her strange death in an icy ravine affects everyone in the tiny village: her enormous, slow-minded son; an embittered midwife; the hunchbacked lord of the manor; his decaying mother; and an itin- erant portrait painter, whose arrival in the village unearths secrets and passions beyond anyone's expectations.

The other -- young, slight, and solitary -- is a dutiful chambermaid to the mistress of the manor until Dora's accident begins to distract her from her daily tasks. Her quest to uncover the truth about the prostitute's mysterious life and sudden death leads her to a terrible discovery, and the beginnings of a future.

A novel about murder, flesh, fertility, desire, medicine, and art, "Bone House" transports readers to stratified Elizabethan England, where the body -- or "bone house" -- had a primary role in deter-mining one's destiny. Sensual, sophisticated, and fiercely compelling, this is an uncommonly assured debut.

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