Bone Memories, by Sally Piper | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 31, 2022

Bone Memories, by Sally Piper

It seems almost axiomatic now that people should be allowed to grieve in their own way and at their own pace so Sally Piper’s latest novel is a timely reminder that it’s not as simple as that…

We’ve all seen those roadside memorials and wondered about the story behind them.  From time to time we see media about councils wanting to tidy them up, and the distraught relatives who want them left there.  We see conflict-laden stories about the memorialisation of places where significant tragedies have occurred, such as the Twin Towers site, and closer to home the Sari Club.  It’s not just the commercial value of these sites, it’s also that a new generation comes along who may be respectful but they want to move on.

Some memorials are bled into our consciousness without any visible signs.  I can never drive over the Westgate Bridge without thinking of the last moments of Darcey Freeman.

In Piper’s story, however, it’s proximity to the site where Billie’s daughter Jess was murdered.  Every day she visits the bushland and lovingly cleans the small plaque that records her loss.  She has a deep attachment to the bush, and believes that her daughter’s presence is there.  Sixteen years after the murder, it defines Billie and her life.  And when she loses her job at a garden centre she has more time to brood and obsess over her sacred place.

Her grandson, Daniel, however, who witnessed the murder as a toddler but remembers nothing of it, is ready to move on.  He is a gentle, kind and thoughtful boy, but like his younger stepsister Scout, he doesn’t want to be defined as a victim.   His father and stepmother are ready to move on too.  Angus needs more space for his new woodworking business, and Carla doesn’t just want a nicer home, she wants to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere of the shrine that has trapped them all.  Told from Billie’s, Daniel’s and Carla’s PoV, the story observes the conflicting perspectives with acuity, but in the end, as the reader knows it must, life goes on.   Timelines of grief do not always gently converge.

Book groups will, I think, argue long and hard about Piper’s resolution for Billie.  Compared to Amanda Lohrey’s resolution for her character in The Labyrinth, I find it nihilist, and not just because I find the spiritual elements unconvincing.  But that is not to say that the resolution is unrealistic.  I am reminded of the mother of one of the Port Arthur victims who, from time to time on anniversaries is interviewed and has never found the ‘closure’ that people talk about.

This review was written with the fog of Covid in my brain, so apologies for its brevity,  I haven’t been able to read anything while ‘in the throes’ but last night I picked up Carmel Bird’s beautiful new book Telltale, and this morning I’m well enough to feel that familiar urge to write, and for me, writing is book reviews.  I had just finished Bone Memories before I got sick, so here we are.

Update, about noon: I’m just back from the respiratory clinic, and good news, that really alarming pain in my chest is just a badly bruised rib, from coughing so hard!

Author: Sally Piper
Title: Bone Memories
Cover design by Sandy Cull, gogoGingko
Cover artwork: Tiel Seivi-Keevers
Publihser: UQP. (University of Queensland Press), 2022
ISBN: 9780702265570, pbk., 269 pages
Review copy courtesy of UQP.


Responses

  1. So sorry to hear about your covid. It just never ends does it. Glad you’re getting back to your old self. There seem to be a few books around lately having to do with grief. I’m trying to stay away from them but that doesn’t seem possible with reading Joan Didion’s book and then going to a Fullers event soon to see Chloe Hooper. When I drive over the Tasman bridge here I think of the ship lying at the bottom of the river with the crew which is a memorial as they were never recovered.

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    • Thanks Pam.
      I feel less anxious since contact with my GP. I was diagnosed on Saturday and on Sunday got an SMS from the system saying that I’d get a call from Alfred Health in a couple of minutes, and here we are, it’s Tuesday and I still haven’t heard from them. (I did get an SMS from them telling me to fill in a symptom diary which doesn’t work). And my GP’s clinic was closed at the weekend.
      I did feel a bit abandoned because, although I already had an Oximeter, (they’re supposed to send you one if you’re in that category, and alas, I am) I had no guidance about its numbers i.e. when to call for help.
      But my GP via Telehealth went into action yesterday and now I’m on antivirals, delivered by my local chemist, and I’m just off to the Respiratory Clinic to have my chest pain investigated, I’m hoping it’s just a lung infection because I’ve fought that off before with antibiotics.
      I love medical science! Huge bouquets to whoever invented antivirals!!

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  2. I do hope you are fully recovered very soon Lisa.

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    • Thank you Eleanor, I am starting to think that I might be!

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  3. Sorry to hear you have been struck down with Covid! Wishing you a mild case and a speedy recovery. I just finished reading this one last night, am yet to write up a review though. I did really enjoy it.

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    • Thanks Theresa. I’m still fading in and out a bit so I’m not 100% back on deck yet, but I’m getting there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh no, Lisa, I’m so sorry to hear about the covid! I know how careful you have been… I’m out the other side now and think I got off fairly lightly. I didn’t develop a cough or sore throat, but had terrible back pain and banging headaches. I’m impressed you could write this excellent review because I could not review anything for 10+ days — my brain could just not put any thoughts in order, it was like cotton wool. Much improved now (and I need to be because all I do these days is bang out press releases and copy for a living) but am still very fatigued. Got home last night and fell asleep on the sofa for two hours! Anyway, wishing you a speedy recovery.

    BTW, this book sounds intriguing, even if you felt that there were elements of nihilism in it and that it was inauthentic in places.

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    • I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend, but will pass on the advice from The Offspring (who has been monitoring me by SMS every day): rest, rest, rest and don’t go rushing into things.
      Easy to say, I know, and not so easy to do when work is an issue.
      (He apparently slept for three days straight.)
      I think Piper has done well to challenge the issue that we should all ‘be there’ for the grief-stricken with no end-date. We would all like to, as her characters would all like to, but there comes a point when difficult choices about competing needs have to be made. As I say, I think book groups would love teasing this one out.

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  5. Oh no, you two. Have just been to reading group and found that a member (and her husband) who’d just been in Melbourne got COVID. (Not that I’m saying it’s Melbourne, because friends have had it from here too). So far we’ve not got it, though I’m only being averagely careful. I figure we will get it eventually. I hope yours is not a bad case. Most well-vaccinated people seem to have a light case, though heavy coughing doesn’t sound good. It can be exhausting and painful. I hope you are well soon, and don’t suffer long after effects.

    Anyhow, this book sounds interesting. I don’t know how people go on after some of these experiences.

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    • Your comment about people having to go on has made me realise something: the nation has a collective grief about all the many and different losses from Covid – but not everyone is ready to move on at the same time.
      And blaming is part of that, just as depicted in this book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes unfortunately… we are too quick to blame I think but it seems to be part of the trajectory. It’s only when you look back later, with the perspective of tims, that you can see where blame may or may not be really valid?

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        • Perhaps it’s just human nature…

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          • Perhaps, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be better? I’d like the think we could.

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            • Well of course it does. But the fact that it’s so common at such a time means it’s probably almost instinctive and people deep in grief probably aren’t all that receptive to trying to be better their better selves. I just meant that what looks like selfish behaviour shouldn’t be judged too harshly.

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              • Fair enough, of course, but I also think that that’s perhaps the time when your values are really tested. I understand deep grief, and how it can discombobulate you, so I don’t think I judge harshly – but I always hope for better and love it when I see it.

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  6. So sorry about your covid. Hope you feel better soon.

    This does take up an interesting issue–how does one decide when to move on or whose point of view counts in making that decision. Thanks for highlighting the book

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    • Hello Mallika, thank you for your good wishes. You’re in India, is that correct? I remember when we were seeing very concerning news about Covid rates there, but since events in Europe, we haven’t heard so much about how you are getting on. I hope things are improving.
      I’ve read a couple of books lately about children not being ready to move on and sell the family home to get the inheritance, but not one quite like this one.

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      • Hello, yes I am. Things have been fairly stable since the huge spike last year, but it seems they are predicting another surge in some parts of the country. One can only keep one’s fingers crossed. We have had two of our shots–I think most people have as also their boosters–and due for our first set of boosters later this month.

        I hope yours turns out to be a mild version, and things improve soon.

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        • Thanks, Mallika, you’re right about keeping fingers crossed. You take care!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. This does sound a compelling read, I’m really interested in different reactions to grief and how people navigate that with those they are close to.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery from covid Lisa, I hope you feel much better soon.

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    • Thank you!
      Well, I suppose it’s true that people who are unreasonable before a tragic event like a murder are just as likely to go on being unreasonable. And then how do you deal with someone being intransigent? With an army of counsellors and good friends to support you, I guess!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad the brain is still working and you are emerging from the fog. And that that it’s only a bruised rib to accompany it. Stay well! x

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    • So far, so good. The first good night’s sleep since Friday night has certainly improved my mood:)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Just catching up on the blogging world only to read this! Sorry that covid has caught you after all this time of being so careful. Mr Books and I are still ducking and weaving, but like Sue, feel that it’s ineveitable at some stage.
    Glad you are on the mend and that its just a rib and not the lungs! Although having had whooping cough a number of years ago, the pain that deep coughing can cause is not to be underestimated.

    I’m (weirdly) drawn to grief and loss books, so will give this one a closer look now.
    Take care xo

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    • Gosh, whooping cough, I’ve only ever seen videos of (Byron Bay) babies with that. I can’t imagine that…
      I need to start apologising for everything I’ve missed in the blogging world over the last week, there’s a bit of catch up blog reads for me to do!

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      • Thankfully I had been vaxxed, so my case was mild – I’d hate to have had a full blown version of it!

        And no hurry whatsoever. From everything I’ve heard you will need lots of rest for a while yet.

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        • I didn’t know you could get whooping cough despite being vaxxed. Something else to worry about!

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          • From memory the whooping cough vaccine is only give to children and then again to people over 50 in risk categories every 10 yrs. As an early childhood teacher I had one every 10 yrs. I got sick around the time I was due for my next booster. Most people not working with young children or working in aged care don’t really need to worry about.

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            • That sounds right. I’ve recently checked smallpox records for our family, and the Offspring had those vaccines as part of the early childhood routine, and so did I.

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  10. Some years ago my niece was killed by a drunk driver. My brother’s very quiet and you never know what he is thinking, but my sister in law feels the loss of her daughter every day. We accommodate her but there is only so much you can say.
    I am ambivalent about the many memorials I pass on country roads. They’re nearly always unsightly but nevertheless I think I prefer unofficial to official monuments to grief.

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    • Oh, Bill, I am so sorry for your loss. Such a terrible way to lose a member of your family.
      There was one of those memorials on my way home from work, and I suppose it was unsightly, but it was in memory of a young boy killed by a speeding hoon coming off the freeway, and I thought of the boy’s family every time I saw it. I think they should be left in place for as long as they’re needed.

      Like


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