Cloud of Bone, by Bernice Morgan

Cloud of Bone is another of those books that I’m much too prejudiced to be reviewing, but I will anyway.  Bernice Morgan is not only my favourite Newfoundland author, not only a friend and mentor, but also my aunt.  I have to tell you that in the interests of full disclosure, and then I have to beg you to believe that even if I knew nothing about her and had just randomly picked Cloud of Bone off a bookshelf, it would still have blown me away.

Cloud of Bone tells three separate stories that don’t fully come together till the very end of the novel.  The first is the story of Kyle Holloway, a Newfoundland teenager who almost accidentally enlists in the navy in World War Two and ends up a deserter, hiding out in a place that once provided him with sanctuary as a child.  I found Kyle in many ways the most  compelling of the three characters: he is a difficult, desperate young man without much sense of hope or ambition, ready to sink to the lowest common denominator as soon as one is offered.  Yet he is likable as well as pitiable, and as he waits for what he thinks will be certain death I couldn’t help hoping fate would turn around for Kyle.

The second, largest portion of the novel tells the story of Shawnadithit, last of the Beothuk Indians.  Her people were wiped out after the coming of the European settlers: it’s a story every Newfoundlander knows, our national shame.  Shawnadithit’s story is an intense and intimate portrayal of a young girl coming of age amid a culture that is dying.  Her voice and her story are vivid and chilling.  I usually find it difficult to get into books about aboriginal peoples in their “primitive” state: their world never seems real, perhaps because it’s so completely remote from ours.   That’s not a problem with Cloud of Bone — Shawnadithit’s world truly does seem remote and alien, yet so real I felt I’d been there.  This novel did for my perception of the Beothuks what Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns did for my perception of Afghanistan — turned a distant and unreal tragedy into something I could taste, feel and smell.  In this portion of the novel, Bernice Morgan has done for Newfoundland’s native people what she did for our first European settlers in Random Passage — she has truly brought the story to life.

The final portion of the book turns to a recently widowed anthropologist, Judith Muir.  Judith is attempting to pick up the pieces of a shattered life in England in the present day, when she makes a shocking discovery that brings her life into collision with the lives of Kyle Holloway and Shawnadithit.  This portion of the book is perhaps the most intimate and personal.  It’s also the section in which Morgan reflects overtly on the themes that have threaded through the book: themes of human violence toward humans, and the curious role memory plays in keeping alive both atrocities, and the people by whom and against whom they were committed.

Cloud of Bone is a completely absorbing book, skilfully and lyrically written, in which three radically different individuals and the worlds in which they live are lovingly re-created with every tiny detail in place.  I haven’t read a better book in a long time, and I don’t expect to anytime soon.



Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- historical, Newfoundland author

9 responses to “Cloud of Bone, by Bernice Morgan

  1. I found you as I was looking for other people who had read this book. I loved it too and I’m not related! The middle section, with Shawnaditha, was so compelling. Tell your aunt I enjoyed it a lot.

  2. I, too, came across this site while looking up “Cloud of Bone.” It’s such a wonderful novel! I totally agree with you about the usual challenges facing a novelist who tackles the almost impossible task of rendering the pre-European past authentically. But, somehow, she pulls it off splendidly.

    I was fortunate enough to be at a recent reading of the novel and had an opportunity to hear your aunt talk about the background a little bit. Fascinating stuff!

  3. I’m john christopher, retired marine biologist(MUN, DAL, UofT), writer., song writer. Memorial Univ’s first graduating class 1956 with entrance scholarship to Dalhousie U. Worked for FRB of C in arctic and in Nl for 6 years ..Wrote up harp/hood seal hunt experiences off Labrador( aboard the famous Norwegian vessel MV Theron), 1961-62 and beluga whale work in arctic , 1962-1964 in memoir Molasses Bread and Tea…also have CD available., Tea or Tequila . Currently settled in senior’s apt in Toronto, Ont..Will be giving show at Gate 403 in Toronto in January,/08..Love your aunt’s work. Can’t see who wouldn’t….Very moving stuff….I think she was at MUN perhaps when I was in 1953-1956…..MOses Morgan was the Dean there then. He gave me my 2 scholarships (1956)
    Best to you and her,
    JOhn Christopher

  4. Pingback: Cloud of Bone, by Bernice Morgan « Book Tea

  5. Margie

    Hello I found her books onour tv channel 9 that comes from Canada and I have only found one of her books Cape Random can anyone help me with where I can find some more of her books??? Audio Books Prefered great for listening to in the car, Thank-You

  6. Patricia Carriere

    I have just finished reading Random Passage and Waiting for Time. I can not wait to get my hands on this one. I have just holidayed in NFLD and am enjoying the history. I love the East coast!

    • You should definitely read Cloud of Bone! And if you’re looking for more Nfld literature to keep you in that East Coast mood I could humbly suggest my own books, By the Rivers of Brooklyn and That Forgetful Shore.

  7. Lee

    I am so grateful for Bernice Morgan…please tell her for me.
    Before our visit to Newfoundland, I learned so much from Random, have now read Waiting and I am still responding to the waves of understanding
    she evokes in me, trickling through my own experiences of the place, the people. The world needs more Newfoundland.
    Lee Beliveau

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