Mila and the Bone Man by Lauren Roche

Book reviewing 101: Review a book when you’ve finished it.

I thought I would try something different with Lauren Roche’s Mila and the Bone Man. I’m currently reading it, and I propose this: a short meditation on the journey so far. The thoughts and feelings that have come to me as I have turned the pages. The unfolding.

I know a book has captured me when my mind wanders back and back to it throughout the day. I walk past it gently waiting on my dining room table, as I work and prepare food and do washing. It whispers to me. I feel that little thrill I get when I know I have something to look forward to. I find myself fantasising about bedtime. I imagine my deep sigh as I lie back and pick up the book with the soft green cover and the richness underneath.

Perhaps it’s the delicacy of tone. Or the careful, tenderly crafted sentences. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of horror (I don’t think I’m overstating it) and beauty. Maybe it’s the setting; in particular, the deeply accurate evocation of native New Zealand bush. (I know I share with the author a need for regular escape to nature; her love for this land and the flora and fauna cradled by it is at the heart of this novel. And it’s specific: there is this bird, and this tree, and this fence post, in this slant of light. It’s wonderful.) Maybe it’s the characters: complicated, gifted, adolescent Mila. Tommy, with a heart bigger than all of them. And oh, Esther.

I have found some passages very hard to read. Nature is cruel, people say. So are humans, and I wasn’t prepared for some pages. But I push on, because I want it all. I take a breath and I keep turning.

Mila is a healer, I’m discovering. She’ll become more of one. I believe that as I read further the healing will come for me, the reader, as well.

‘Lyrical, moving, quietly compelling’, says fellow Kiwi author Catherine Chidgey. You know you’ve got something right when an author like Chidgey uses those words. She’s spot on, too.

And so I read on, after dinner and as the sun is setting, warming less and less of me as I nestle in my reading chair by the door to my garden, hoping a tūī will flash by, wings slapping, to punctuate the dusk.

I can almost smell the forest and hear the birdsong. All is green and lush. Bones, and people, are bare and fragile. Mila is becoming. I don’t know Tommy well yet, but I will. And Roche is holding gently, and skillfully, beautiful and terrifying things.

Mila and the Bone Man

Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2022

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