It’s usual, they say, for a young person coming to London for the first time to arrive with a head full of dreams. Well, Endurance Proudfoot did not. When she stepped off the coach from Sussex, on a warm and sticky afternoon in the summer of 1757, it never occurred to her that the city would be the place where she’d make her fortune; she was just very annoyed to be arriving there at all.
Meet Endurance Proudfoot, the bonesetter’s daughter: clumsy as a carthorse, with a tactless tongue and a face she’s sure only a mother could love. Durie only wants one thing in life – to follow her father and grandfather into the family business of bonesetting. It’s a physically demanding job, requiring strength, nerves of steel and discretion – and not the job for a woman.
But Durie isn’t like other women. She’s strong and stubborn and determined to get her own way. And she finds that she has a talent at bonesetting – her big hands and lack of grace have finally found their natural calling.
So, when she is banished to London with her sister, who is pretty, delicate and exactly the opposite to Durie in every way, Durie will not let it stop her realising her dreams. And while her sister will become one of the first ever Georgian celebrities, Durie will become England’s first and most celebrated female bonesetter. But what goes up must come down, and Durie’s elevated status may well become her undoing…
I adored Frances Quinn’s debut novel, The Smallest Man, reviewed here on the blog in 2020 and was so excited at the prospect of another novel. That Bonesetter Woman is again historical fiction and with a main character that finds herself out of step with everyone else.
Endurance (Durie) Proudfoot has not been blessed with grace nor beauty and speaks as she finds – her honesty often being her downfall. Her elder sister Lucinda is the opposite, graceful and pretty who has no trouble attracting men and whose ambition for the stage is a perfect match for her talents.
Durie however has a talent of her own unfortunately it is not one that women are known for. Her father is a bonesetter, a trade which is traditionally passed from father to son. Even though Durie is much more suited to the task than her brother, she has to take a back seat simply because she is the wrong sex.
For reasons which are unfortunate to say the least, Lucinda and Durie find themselves living in London, with their Aunt Ellen, a sharp minded, straight talking spinster businesswoman with her own bakery. Durie is less suited to baking than she was to sewing and when an opportunity arises to use her bonesetting skills, she does so. Durie begins her new career with enthusiasm. However she may be talented but she is rather naïve in other ways and she will soon need all her self preservation to get her through if she is to succeed both professionally and personally.
I don’t want to delve into the plot on this because Durie’s story really is one that you must discover for yourself. I really took Durie to my heart – I loved her for her compassion and her determination not to give in and felt sadness at the unwise decisions and the prejudice she suffered. Durie and Lucinda really were chalk and cheese, Lucinda was flighty and rather self centred and it was Durie who showed the most humanity when Lucinda turned her back.
With this second book, Frances Quinn has found her place on my list of auto-buy authors. I just love her style of writing which is so very readable – her evocative descriptions bring to life the characters and locations without being overdone nor flowery. This fictional story is also a commentary of the times and is told against the background of women’s rights upon marriage (or rather the lack of), prejudice and misogyny.
I loved this and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Durie is an unforgettable character who undertakes both an epic personal and professional journey and I would love to see another book that follows the future of some of these characters. That Bonesetter Woman will definitely have a place on my favourite books of the year list.
Frances Quinn grew up in London and read English at King’s College, Cambridge, realising too late that the course would require more than lying around reading novels for three years. After snatching a degree from the jaws of laziness, she became a journalist, writing for magazines including Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home, and later branched out into copywriting, producing words for everything from Waitrose pizza packaging to the EasyJet in-flight brochure. In 2013, she won a place on the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course, and started work on her first novel, The Smallest Man. That Bonesetter Woman is her second novel.She lives in Brighton, with her husband and two Tonkinese cats.