About the Book
Meet Endurance Proudfoot – England’s strongest woman, boldest adventurer and first female bonesetter.
Endurance Proudfoot 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.
Format: Hardback (448 pages) Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 21st July 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Before reading this book I had very little awareness of the existence of bonesetters or what they did. I now know it involved a combination of the skill of an orthopaedic surgeon in setting fractures and that of an osteopath in treating painful joints. I certainly had no idea there were women who performed such a role. But, in her Author’s note, Frances reveals the inspiration for Endurance was a real person – Sally Mapp – a bonesetter who found fame in eighteenth century England. Other elements of Sally’s life are to be found in the story of her fictional alter ego, Endurance ‘Durie’ Proudfoot.
Durie’s story is a familiar one, that of a woman thwarted in achieving her ambition by discrimination and the social conventions of the day. Although her Aunt Ellen’s belief is that ‘if there’s work a woman’s got a talent for, she ought to do it’, it’s not as easy as that. Firstly, Durie faces opposition from her father who, whilst acknowledging she has skill, holds firmly to the belief that bonesetting is a man’s work. An unexpected, and initially unwanted, move to London for reasons related to Durie’s sister, Lucinda – plus a helping of good fortune – finally seems to provide the opportunity for Durie to perform the work she believes she was born to do. Her aunt’s commercial acumen initially brings Durie success but proves disastrous in other respects. Soon Durie is facing some pretty underhand tactics from those who cannot tolerate the idea of a woman bonesetter or, perhaps, feel threatened by her success. Unfortunately Durie’s plainspeaking and inability to ‘flannel’ only inflames the situation.
The three main female characters, Durie, Lucinda and Aunt Ellen, have things in common – determination, resilience and a desire for independence – but exhibit them in entirely different ways. Lucinda, despite coming across as shallow, hard-hearted and even duplicitous at times, nevertheless knows what it will take to succeed and nothing and no-one is going to stop her. Aunt Ellen, whom Durie concedes ‘was a lot more interesting than she’d seemed’ has built a successful business, eschewing marriage because it will mean her husband has control over everything she owns. Durie has an unflinching belief that she has the ‘knack’ of bonesetting and can help people who have been let down by conventional medicine.
There’s a feminist element running through the story. When a rift occurs between Lucinda and Durie, Aunt Ellen counsels them that they are stronger together. ‘All women are. You’ve both seen enough of men to know you can’t count on them. So make sure you can count on each other.’ As it turns out, there is one man that can be counted on.
One of the fantastic elements of the book is the way it immerses you in the life of Georgian London. There are lively scenes at the theatre as the audience’s appetite for sentimental storylines and outrageous adventures is quenched. We visit the coffee houses where patrons peruse the news sheets for details about the latest antics of members of the aristocracy – who they’ve been seen with, what they’re wearing, the establishments they patronise. The Georgian equivalent of today’s social media influencers, if you like. Not forgetting the residents of the Tower of London menagerie who play such an important (matchmaking) part in the story.
There are several heartbreaking aspects to the book: Durie’s erroneous belief that she is responsible for a tragic event; the unworldiness that means she is vulnerable to manipulation and betrayal; and an intervention made with the best of intentions but that is utterly wrong. In contrast, a particularly heartwarming storyline is neatly brought to a conclusion by means of a touching postscript.
In the Acknowledgments section the author talks about the experience of writing a second novel, including the nagging question: was the first one (The Smallest Man) a ‘fluke’? On the evidence of That Bonesetter Woman I can definitely say it wasn’t a fluke.
I received an advance reader copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.
In three words: Engaging, fascinating, touching
Try something similar: The Physician’s Daughter by Martha Conway
About the Author
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.
She lives in Brighton, with her husband and two Tonkinese cats.
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