(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the action of The Bone People is roughly chronological, the fact that it is related through the thoughts, memories, dreams, and associations of the three central characters results in a dual progression. Each character is moving forward through the months of association with the others; at the same time, each character is recapitulating his earlier life and reinterpreting it while he interprets the responses and the revelations of the other two.

At the beginning of the story, Kerewin Holmes, the protagonist, is defiantly alone in the “Tower,” a home which she has built and where she lives and paints. She has cut herself off from her large, loving, bossy family, and she has resigned herself to a celibate life, recognizing her peculiar distaste for any physical contact.

Into her solitude comes Simon P. Gillayley, a mysterious young boy who was washed ashore, without identification and without the power of speech, several years before and who has been informally adopted by Joseph N. Gillayley, whose own wife and child died shortly after Simon’s appearance. Because he is mute and terrified, Simon, too, is alone. His thefts and acts of vandalism have made him an outcast in the community, and Joe Gillayley’s fits of drunken abuse keep Simon off balance, even though the boy refuses to admit that his beloved foster father has ever harmed him.

As the story proceeds, Kerewin Holmes comes to love both Simon and Joe. What begins as a casual contact, Simon’s invasion of the Tower and Joe’s subsequent call to apologize, continues as a...

(The entire section is 649 words.)