THE BONE GARDEN by Heather Kassner.
Titan Books. p/b. £7.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Her job is to collect the bones from the graveyard below. She carries a candle though she hardly needs it now, so familiar is her path. Through the hidden door she goes while Miss Arden Vesper waits impatiently above for her return. There are six tunnels to choose from but Irréelle knows well where they all lead.
She carries out her work with great diligence, as always. She was well crafted, though not well enough for the ‘other’ work. Collecting bones is all she can do for Miss Vesper, and so she does it well. Miss Vesper tells her she does not really exist; she made her and can un-make her just as easily, she says. But Irréelle has always felt real… to herself.
The Bone Garden is a short and enjoyable tale which has the classic feel of a Victorian ghost story told by firelight as we follow Irréelle’s journey from willing servant to independence of a sort when she decides to pick flowers for the first time and ends up venturing beyond Miss Vesper’s reach.
The greatest strength here is Kassner’s handling of the relationship between our heroine and her abusive maker and mistress. The ‘pull’ Irréelle feels towards Miss Vesper, the home comforts of their life, and the threats and cruelty she suffers at her hands portray well the double-edged sword of an abusive relationship and will be relatable for many of its young readers, though more page time would have allowed greater exploration of this dynamic as well as the impact of Irréelle’s ‘flawed’ construction and imperfections.
The tale is told with a slightly ethereal quality – as Irréelle doubts her own existence and expects it to be brought to a swift end so too does the reader, wondering if she will soon drift out of reach. That thread of tension adds a little urgency into what is otherwise a moderately paced read.