All Bones and Lies by Anne Fine: Book Review

Sometimes a book starts off well, only to peter out and other times the beginning doesn’t look at all promising and later the book  improves. Then there are books like All Bones and Lies by Anne Fine that don’t seem attractive at the beginning and carries on in the same vein throughout, despite hints in the writing that it will get better. I didn’t really enjoy this book and only finished it because it’s my Book Club choice for discussion and I think it’s better to read all of it before I say anything about it.

I had high hopes I would like it and that it would be a funny book – Anne Fine has won Awards for her children’s books and the film, Mrs Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams, is based on her book Madame Doubtfire. Although I didn’t enjoy the story, I did find it an indictment of how old age is looked upon by some people – an angry, unsettling and cruel look at our society.

Colin, works for the council and visits his aged mother, Norah. Norah is a grumbler, completely self-absorbed and constantly belittling Colin who can never please her. She had

… spent the larger part of her life making malice an art form. Small wonder that she’d had so little time for jobs or hobbies. She’d put her heart and energies into this business of growing grievances and fomenting ill-will. (page 252)

Colin is at a loss about how to deal with her:

All over Britain people his age were watching clocks in stuffy rooms, nodding along in unfeigned sympathy with their own grizzled back numbers about what tough luck it was that they could no longer get to the shops, what with their shocking bunions. Then they’d go home, pick up the newspaper and find themselves reading about some even more ancient geezer who’d lost both legs in the war and had done his first parachute jump. The world was full of dutiful sons and daughters who had revamped their whole Saturday to cheer some seventy-year-old through a drab birthday only to find that the reason the Social Club was closed in the first place was because all the Over-Eighties had gone off on safari. (pages 135 -6)

Much of the narrative is what goes on inside Colin’s head as he imagines what he will say and do and never quite manages to stand up for himself. His twin sister, Dilys is estranged from her mother and leaves it all to Colin. He worries about everything, particularly the house insurance his mother is arranging. He fantasises quite a lot too, in the garden shed at the bottom of the garden, and also imagines that Tammy, the daughter of an ex-circus trapeze artiste, is his own child.

At times I found it confusing, just what was real and what was in his imagination and how the book hung together. Of course, everything goes wrong as events spiral out of Colin’s control. As I read I hoped above all that I would never turn into Norah.