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The Bone People (1984)

by Keri Hulme

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,326972,873 (4.08)455
This unusual novel, set in New Zealand, concentrates on three people: Kerewin Holmes, a part-Maori painter who has chosen to isolate herself in a tower she built from lottery winnings; Simon, a troubled and mysterious little boy; and Joe Gillayley, the Maori factory worker who is Simon's foster father. Elements of Maori myth and culture are woven into the novel's exploration of the passions and needs that bind these three people together, for good or ill. It's not easy reading, but the story is compelling despite its stylistic eccentricities and great length. The novel is the winner of the Pegasus Prize.… (more)
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» See also 455 mentions

English (88)  Dutch (4)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 88 (next | show all)
I just could not get over the child abuse. It was horrible and made me cringe. I could not forgive the adults for it – the abuser or the enablers. Culture differences and poor coping skills are usually the reason for child abuse, but nevertheless they are not an excuse... No poetic language or metaphysical rhetoric could make let go of the feeling that child abuse was being pardoned and justified. ( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Very engaging. The plot is quite simple for such a long book - a demi-god living amongst us, and the affect on a father and son who dare to recognise and engage. However the book is not a word too long. Opens a window on a New Zealand community and the land and sea around them, and windows into the reader's heart and soul. Worth reading slowly for the richness of the writing as well as ideas. I only discovered the list of Maori words and notes near the end of reading the book. I'm glad it is there but if I had known earlier I would have interrupted the flow of the narrative flicking forwards at each phrase instead of going with the flow. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jan 23, 2021 |
Interesting read. I liked the story, but it was really, long and a bit tedious at times. I felt like I was reading a Dan Brown book - he doesn't know when to just end it. I would be very hesitant to recommend this one because it's so different (and long). I don't mind long - LOTR trilogy was long and I LOVE those books. It's when an author just continues to write and it doesn't add anything to the plot. ( )
  3CatMom | Dec 28, 2020 |
This year I am reading all the Booker Prize winners since 1969. Follow me at www.methodtohermadness.com

I am so glad I am past the books about British colonies written by colonizers (at least, I hope I am). Though many of them are heartfelt, there is something less engaging in reading about guilt, than in reading about the experience of the colonized. I guess I’d rather read a victim’s memoir than an abuser’s, no matter how enlightened the abuser may have become.

Anyway, The Bone People is only partly “about” New Zealand’s experience as a British colony. The history between Maoris and “Pakeha” (white folks) simply forms the backdrop to a three-part relationship puzzle.

I haven’t usually named characters beyond the protagonist in these reviews, but all three of these must be named, because they are all three protagonists. Kerewin is part Maori and all recluse. After a mysterious falling-out with her family, she used lottery winnings to literally build a tower and isolate herself in it, Bruce Wayne-like. She’s hard to sympathize with at first, as she cuts a somewhat unrealistic swashbuckling figure: a rich but failed artist who drinks too much, wears silk shirts, smokes cigarillos, and has some uncanny physical skills. But the other two will find the cracks in her armor.

The hinge that holds the three together is Simon, who shows up uninvited in Kerewin’s tower one day. She doesn’t like kids, but does due diligence in getting him back to his people. It’s a little harder than you might imagine, because he doesn’t speak. And he’s white.

Finally, the third panel in the triptych is Joe, Simon’s adoptive Maori dad, a factory hand, who does not make a great first impression on Kere. The way these three gradually become inseparable becomes more interesting even than the mystery of where the white boy came from and why he does not talk.

It’s a fascinating story, imbued with Maori tradition, yet I believe it encourages a moving forward into self-created identities. If you are reading it for the “big reveal” on Simon’s background, don’t bother. If you are reading it for a poetic meditation on art, love, and the meaning of family, then kia ora (good luck and good health).
( )
  stephkaye | Dec 14, 2020 |
In the introduction we learn that the author sent the book to several publishers, who wanted to edit the hell out of it. Finally she found a press that was happy to leave it alone. When I read this, I thought, oh lordy. I was prepared for self-indulgent ramblings, too many words.

It most certainly is written in an unusual style. Thoughts are indented, often conversations between two people are in the same paragraph, and Ms. Hulme uses a lot of ellipses. This last seems "lazy" to me. I think one should just use a period or finish the thought. It is easy enough to get used to the style, however.

I did have a little trouble following the trains of thought of the main character, Kerewin Holmes, and sometimes the other characters as well. I had the feeling I couldn't quite get inside their heads. In part because the novel is peppered with Maori words and slang terms, as well as what I take to be Maori beliefs. (Hulmes is Maori) This offers a glimpse into the culture, which I value, however. I don't think it is overdone.

The story. Kerewin ("Kere") lives alone in a tower of a residence that she built after winning the lottery. She is estranged from her family, is a bit of an eccentric artist who has lost her touch. Can't find that place where she can paint again. I gather she is in her thirties, but throughout I couldn't help but think of her actions and thoughts as "older". My fault, perhaps. She is part Maori, is strongly built and in good shape.

One day she discovers a little boy hiding in her house. Simon (she learns the name later) does not speak but is able to gesture to indicate what he means. He is a strange little boy who seems well advanced for his apparent years. Small and thin, he also has bursts of great anger and is a thief. Kere does not particularly care for him but at the time she finds him there is a great storm outside and she won't throw him out in the rain. She tries to reach someone who knows him, does find someone who promises to pick him up. But while he is there something in him reaches out to Kere and something in her touches him. There is some kind of odd, brittle bond formed.

Eventually Kere meets his father, Joe. Learns that Simon was thrown on the shore after a shipwreck had killed his presumed parents. Nobody can find out his origins so Joe and his wife never completed formal adoption proceedings. Soon after, Joe's wife and natural child die of sickness and Joe and Simon are left alone.

The character of Simon is a great part of the novel, as is the character of Kere. Both have unknown history, both have clearly been hurt. Simon tests everyone, not least his father, by damaging things, stealing things, behaving impossibly. Yet Kere tends to get through to him through her own adult way of speaking, which includes words Simon has never heard before, and phrases from who-knows-where.

The story does not proceed easily. It is more, to me, like real life in that way. There comes a great climax when all appears to be lost, but it is not the end. As the book proceeds from here we are treated to more and more Maori mysticism, for want of a better term. It gets a little out there. I was nevertheless hooked. I think it is worth getting through some stream-of-dream-consciousness to get to the conclusion. The characters are powerfully written, complex, and memorable. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 88 (next | show all)
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Bok, AnnekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This unusual novel, set in New Zealand, concentrates on three people: Kerewin Holmes, a part-Maori painter who has chosen to isolate herself in a tower she built from lottery winnings; Simon, a troubled and mysterious little boy; and Joe Gillayley, the Maori factory worker who is Simon's foster father. Elements of Maori myth and culture are woven into the novel's exploration of the passions and needs that bind these three people together, for good or ill. It's not easy reading, but the story is compelling despite its stylistic eccentricities and great length. The novel is the winner of the Pegasus Prize.

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In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor — a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon's feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge. The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.
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