The Bone Hunters

Written by Joanne Burn
Review by Simon Rickman

Lyme Regis, 1824. Ada Winters, 24, lives with mum Edith in a cottage ‘upon the beach’, so close to the sea that high tides almost reach her doorstep, so close that she knows the currents, rocks and sands intimately. From the landslip of nearby cliffs she teases fossils, indulging her obsession. All her life she has lived and learned paleontology, so much so that she applies for membership of the Geological Society but, being female, is rejected. Meanwhile, in London, physician and keen amateur geologist, Dr. Moyle, prepares for a fossil-hunting holiday on the Dorset coast. Their meeting initiates a to-and-fro camaraderie of shared interest which goes on to involve rivalry, trust and betrayal. Ada’s fractious relationship with her mum contrasts that of her late father’s cleverly drip-fed background story, while her growing ostracisation amongst an eclectic, well-observed support cast adds intriguing depths, made all the more vibrant in the present-tense narrative.

This remarkable story is written with such an open lyrical simplicity your mind cannot help but be immersed in a vivid image-stream, akin to watching an epic work by an Oscar-winning cinematographer. In particular the shorelines, seascapes and weather are excellently described, bringing these, and Ada’s bond with them, to glorious life. This is a grand tale of fortitude and determination, superstition, mystery and wonder. Completely enthralling.