Anita Brookner

Not going to London to visit the Queen

Anita Brooker on the new novel by Frances Itani

It is a pleasure to encounter a new writer, particularly if that writer is modest, competent, and above all unheralded. Frances Itani is Canadian and recognisably from the same background as Alice Munro, although lacking Munro’s wistfulness and emotional delicacy. She is unknown in this country, although the author of a previous novel. On the strength of Remembering the Bones she has it in her to reach a wider audience.

Her story is simple. Her protagonist, Georgina Danforth Witley, has been invited to Buckingham Palace, one of a handful of Commonwealth citizens who share their birthday with that of the Queen. Her house is locked up, her suitcase is in the car, and she is on her way to the airport when she collides with another car and is knocked over a cliff into a ravine into which few passers-by will venture. The car, its door open, stays on the road, and since she is seriously disabled, remains out of reach. She registers that she has a broken arm, a broken leg, and is likely to die unnoticed. She is also nearly 80 years old, and although stubbornly clinging to the hope that someone will rescue her is without illusions on that score.

It is memory that keeps her alive, that and the careful rehearsing of the names of the bones which she learned from her grandfather’s copy of Gray’s Anatomy. This mantra accompanies her thoughts as she lives through hours and days which she is unable to quantify. She remembers her modest beginnings in rural Ontario — and here the comparison with Munro is unavoidable — without a trace of bitterness or regret, the dry-goods store in which her father worked, her powerful grandmother, her parents, her husband, her daughter.

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