Any book that has to list a cast of characters as a preface to the main attraction has the tendency to fill many readers with dread, implying such complexity that more time will be spent flicking back to the character list than actually enjoying the story. It is testament to author Laura Purcell then that her cast of characters is merely an aid to the three different households and time periods we find ourselves in and that the way the novel is divided into distinct parts makes it not only easy to follow but incredibly easy to enjoy.
Enraptured from the beginning as lady’s maid and protagonist, Hester Why, makes her way across country to get away from a dark secret, Purcell weaves together a mystery for her readers that is put together piece by piece, layer by layer. From her previous post as a lady’s maid in London under a different name, to her current post serving the ailing Miss Pinecroft, and then back in time, forty years previously, when the lady that Hester must serve was fit and well and working with her father in an attempt to advance the medical world, each storyline adds its own intrigue, its own mysteries, and slowly some kind of truth is unravelled.
As with any tale containing fairies and “pixy-led” notions the reader must suspend their disbelief and try to understand a world where the only answers seem to be the most unlikely ones. Sceptical from the outset Hester Why encounters a woman being kept as if a child, a maid who appears to be stranger than fiction with her own secrets and backstory to reveal and a series of tragedies which, although not all of her own making, lead her to believe she is cursed. But could something else entirely be at play?
Although Purcell obviously has a leaning towards the macabre many of the finer details of her work such as the creation of Nancarrow bone china and Ernest Pinecroft’s work with the victims of tuberculosis are actually based on real events and practices. Some interesting footnotes to the novel reveal some answers.
But, Bone China is, in the main, a work of fiction, beautifully untangled by the author and entirely gripping for the reader.