Stephanie Bretherton’s Bone Lines (Unbound, 2018) is built around two brilliant intertwined stories. In one, our common ancestress flees the desolate wastes of the north, leaving her clan and lover as ‘bones under snow’ in the fallout from a super-volcano eruption in Sumatra 75,000 years ago. This is the gentle, piercing, plausible tale of her long and dangerous slog, a growing daughter on her back, to safety in what would one day become East Africa. In the other, her bones have been discovered and she has been named Sarah after Barack Obama’s granny, while her DNA is being extracted, sequenced and interpreted by scientists in London. Eloise is the leader of the research team, and as she muses about her own life and the meaning of her work, she offers pithy thoughts on the modern world. The quest for decent sex and rewarding partnerships by single, professional women is a recurrent theme – resolved near the end – but on the way there are useful, intelligent and, as far as I can see as an ecologist and primatologist, accurate observations on human evolution, medical genetics, climate change, consciousness, perception, anthropology, biogeography, and genocide, while she also puts the boot into Brexit, Trump, misogyny and fascism. All this is great! Meanwhile there is a conspiracy of religious nuts haunting the modern story, just as there were cannibals stalking the ancient one, who are satisfyingly defeated by medical compassion and lethal bear claws respectively. And the book ends with the kind of hair-standing-on-end sentence that one half-expected but didn’t dare hope for. Faced with such a thoughtful, modern and often very beautiful read, all I can say is: go get it!
© Julian Caldecott