Review - THE BONE CHURCH, Victoria Dougherty
A fascinating combination of historical exploration of real places and time-periods in history, and the fictional tale of two young people, THE BONE CHURCH, opens with the story of two fugitive lovers, whose lives are impacted by the natural death of her mother (in difficult circumstances), and the murder of his father (and their protector) by the Nazi's.
Weaving the Nazi invasion of Prague and the Cold War in Czechoslovakia into the lives of these two people provides a stark reminder of the length of impact that wars have had on that part of the world. The idea that the same two people who fled the Nazi's are still being impacted in the mid-1950's was chilling, although that is tempered by the lengths to which people who are willing to help will go. And a well judged sense of humour.
The style of storytelling is particularly interesting in THE BONE CHURCH. Whilst the main thrust is sparse, matter-of-fact and so all the more chilling, much of the atmospherics, and environment comes across as sumptuous and utterly at odds with events. Using that sparse style, the author is able to look at those events, in particular the impact of the invasion and the subsequent war on Jewish and Gypsy populations, in a clinical and precise manner, whilst weaving them into a complex plot. The way that the action ebbs and flows and shifts and spins was realistic, in particular the way that the impetus for both good and bad is often in the hands of the people who surround Felix and Magdalena. Because of that, try as they might, their path forward is twisted and frequently muddied by others. As you'd expect in that sort of scenario, everything cannot always be drawn to a tidy conclusion and the reader is left to imagine, to wonder and to ponder. An unsettling experience when the paranoia of the time is so stark.
A very assured debut, THE BONE CHURCH is a really good thriller. It is also a character study, an exploration of the human psyche, with a touch of history and a strong sense of place as well.
In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels. But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions.
Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future.