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The Bone People by Keri Hulme
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The Bone People (1984)

by Keri Hulme

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Recently added byprivate library, zapzap, BayardUS, juniperSun, Kathryn_Brown, Cabinbread, janeone, shelle1969, DReicht
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» See also 342 mentions

English (62)  Dutch (4)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (68)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
You know those books that you finish thinking that it was alright, but as time goes on and your mind mulls it over you begin to like it more and more? The Bone People is the opposite kind of book, to the extent that coming back to write this review I was surprised to find I had given it two stars instead of one.

Where to begin with this terrible attempt at a novel? Well, the opening of poems and snippets of disjointed text without context served as a confusing start to the book, and even once you return to it after finishing the book and knowing what is going on it's needlessly opaque. In general the structure of the book is a mess, with the first two-thirds of the book being an almost completely realistic depiction of life before switching over in the final third to a story replete with the supernatural. Jarring, to say the least. Additionally, this book is far longer than it needed to be, and a properly aggressive editor would likely have shaved off at least a hundred pages.

Beyond the structure the content is also painfully bad. The main character, Holmes, is a bizarre insert of the author that is a rich, brilliant artist who is also a martial arts master. Sure she laments at times about her lack of connection to other people, but the book paints this as Holmes being too cool for everyone else more than an actual inability to be social with other people. She feels like a edgier attempt at a Mary-Sue, and at times I cringed while reading the parts of the book focusing on her.

She's not the main problem, however, as the character of Joe and the book's attitude toward his actions fills that role. It is revealed somewhere at around the halfway mark that Joe is being abusive toward his adopted son Simon, the third main character. We're talking beatings that put Simon's life in danger. The book still treats Joe as a sympathetic character despite this, even when Joe's beatings put Simon in the hospital and bring him within a hair's breadth of death.

Hulme is on record as saying she wanted to write about the issue of child abuse when she wrote The Bone People. Someone needs to tell her that writing about an issue is more than just including an instance of that issue happening in your book, you also have to explore the effect of that message or take a stand on that issue. I'm assuming she didn't intend to do either, because the end of the novel appears to preach that child abuse isn't that bad and that being around an abusive adult is a good option so long as he claims to care. At the end of the story Simon is desperate to return to Joe, his abuser, and in general the novel takes the approach that by removing the child from his care the government was making a mistake, as they just "didn't understand the relationship the two had."

Such a message is disgusting. I'm going to give Hulme the benefit of the doubt and assume she's merely an incompetent writer, instead of evil. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Maori artist broods in her tower. A family becomes marooned in a storm. The artist has an on/off relationship with a drinking "boy-o" and the mute, abused child.
Heart wrenching. Much better than my brief summary. ( )
  juniperSun | Dec 6, 2014 |
The Bone People / Keri Hulme
2 stars

Simon is a little boy and is mute. When he comes across Kerewin, an artist, he seems to like her and wants to spend time with her. Simon's “foster” father (though it's not offical) is a Maori man, Joe. The three get to know each other.

I did not like the style of writing and that put me off right away. I skimmed through most of it. The most interesting parts for me involved Simon's interactions with Kerewin, and Simon on his own. There were seemingly inexplicable indented paragraphs throughout the book; I'm sure the indents were supposed to indicate something, but I never figured it out. There were a couple of sections at the end that were a little more interesting, but overall, I really didn't like it. ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 2, 2014 |
Really enjoyed re-reading this after 20 years - feel I connected with it and understood it much more this time around . ( )
  SarahStenhouse | Oct 2, 2014 |
Set in New Zealand, Kerewin is a reclusive artist living alone in a tower by the sea. One day a young mute boy named Simon shows up at her home and soon insinuates himself into her life. Simon’s stepfather Joe finishes out the odd trio of troubled souls. Together they make a strange family of sorts, but the darker undertones in their relationships soon bubble to the surface.

I’ve never read anything quite like Hulme’s style. It’s a blend of narrative, inner monologue, and poetry. Some parts feel like stream of consciousness, in others we hear what someone is thinking while someone else is talking to them. Usually a style of writing that chaotic would really bother me, but somehow all of the distinct elements work well together and create the tone for the whole novel.

The odd group of characters that doesn’t quite fit anywhere manages to fit together quite nicely. The subject material is tough; child abuse and alcoholism are two of the main issues dealt with in the story. I felt like there were many unanswered questions in the plot and the final third of the novel felt a bit confusing to me.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the most unique novels I’ve ever read. I’m glad I read it if for no other reason than that. I did love seeing Maori culture through a new lens and getting to know Kerewin and Simon. I wish the end had been easier to follow, but the regardless it was a singular reading experience.

There is a glossary of Maori words in the back of the book, but it isn’t alphabetized so I couldn’t ever find what I was looking for as I read the book. ( )
  bookworm12 | Aug 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keri Hulmeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bok, AnnekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He walks down the street.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
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.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140089225, Paperback)

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.

Winner of both a Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize for Literature, The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:54 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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)

» see all 3 descriptions

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