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The Bone People (1984)

by Keri Hulme

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,395972,934 (4.08)465
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 465 mentions

English (89)  Dutch (5)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (97)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Fluid prose blends stream of consciousness, Maori, dreams, and real world interactions – casual reading of the text isn’t really an option if you want to understand what’s happening. The treatment of domestic violence was problematic, however; the abuse kept me from seeing Joe as a complex, ultimately loving person. The deus ex machina of a happy Holmes reunion in the final 5 pages of the book felt like a poor coda to the odd world of makeshift familial love crafted by three very unconventional protagonists. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keri Hulmeprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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