Review – ‘The Naming of Bones’ by Jan Kaneen

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

The memoir-in-flash is an intriguing form and one which this reviewer admits to rarely encountering. In her book The Naming of Bones, Jan Kaneen takes the flash form and uses its variety to great effect, weaving a story of ache, memory, and healing.

The narrative here weaves back and forth between Jan’s recovery stay in Beach Cottage, her dreams and nightmares, and the memories she carries with her of traumatic events in early childhood. Whilst non-linear in the telling, the reader gradually gains a sense of what happened and when. The effects of trauma in her formative years become apparent as each subsequent story peels away a layer, giving previous ones a new dimension. The effect for the reader is breathtaking; there are many ‘a-ha’ moments as things come to light and are reframed with the passage of time and development of understanding.

Mastery of flash fiction in its various forms is clear in the structure of this collection. There are fine examples of mosaic, hermit crab, echo, and other craft elements which make this a compelling read. The whole collection itself is something of a mosaic as it alternates between dream, memory, and the present. All the pieces sit tightly together, even where connection is not apparent until later. And every word works hard; there’s little excess in the language here but the sparseness adds mood to the pieces.

Kaneen’s voice is perfect. In returning to her childhood self, she perfectly captures the language and inflection of a child of four. Where the perspective is her present self, there is a lovely sophistication which never sounds contrived. Her tenuous confidence is preserved in her early stories, and as her strength develops there’s a subtle change in the language which conveys this beautifully. The writing style conveys as much of the story as the words themselves 

This is a stunning tale of mental health, trauma, grief, and recovery. What truly resonates in this book is Jan’s self-compassion. As her understanding of her past crystallises, she begins to see her current state as recoverable and gives herself grace to feel, retreat, and address according to her fortitude on the day. There is a gentle beauty in her honesty with herself and with her reader. This book is perfect for anyone struggling in the depths of grief and anxiety – a reminder of what is possible, that it takes time, but is worth the wait.

The Naming of Bones is available now from Retreat West Books.

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