Subtitled ‘ The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison’, The Bone Key by Sarah Monette is a collection of ten stories linked by said Mr Booth and was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award in 2007.
Booth is an academic, specifically a curator of manuscripts in a museum located in an unnamed city , and this, along with the obvious supernatural elements that play out in each story shows the undoubted influence of MR James and, in my mind to a lesser extent, HP Lovecraft.
Booth is an odd figure, with few connections to those around him other than work colleagues, which puts him firmly in confirmed bachelor status. Unlike her predecessors though, Sarah Monette is more explicit in dealing with Booth’s issues with intimacy and his sexuality in particular. In addition, he’s a man labouring under a family curse and whose dabbling in necromancy has attracted all sorts of supernatural elements into his orbit, many through his work of course. Those pesky manuscripts, they get you every time….
I was interested in reading this book because of my previous experience with Sarah Monette’s stories in various anthologies which I’ve enjoyed very much, but also because I am a complete sucker for the MR James style of story. We learn more about Booth than we ever do with any of James’ characters but that’s perhaps inevitable given that we are talking about a single individual through a series of stories rather than James’ standalone approach. I read this as if it was a novel because I have no discipline whatsoever and couldn’t spread out reading a good set of stories even if my life depended on it.
What is interesting about The Bone Key, which I should say I enjoyed very much, is that it isn’t clear when or where the stories take place. I think it’s safe to say that we are probably somewhere in New England, but that’s about all I was able to come up with.
I really enjoyed all of these stories, my favourite being The Wall of Clouds where Booth is at a spa hotel recovering from a mysterious and almost fatal illness which is never directly explained (but we can make a guess given the stories that have gone before). I expect the impact this collection has on the reader depends very much on whether you like and trust Booth as a narrator.
I would love to read more about Booth’s experiences but I don’t think the author is planning more stories in this world, which is a shame.