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The Bone People (1984)

by Keri Hulme

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,574993,045 (4.07)473
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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English (90)  Dutch (5)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
Art and family by blood; home and family by love…regaining any one was worth this fiery journey to the heart of the sun.


Keri Hulme’s [b:The Bone People|460635|The Bone People|Keri Hulme|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1348988500l/460635._SY75_.jpg|1294681] is a complex story of love, isolation, and a search for identity, set in her native New Zealand. Much of the complexity of this novel rises from its treatment of opposites and how they interact and weave together in a life. How, for example, do love and cruelty exist within the same person and toward the same object? How does a person sort the good and bad and decide whether the one can ever offset the other? How does an individual balance his need for solitude with his need for companionship and understanding?

The three main characters are a half-Maori woman, Kerewin Holmes, who becomes involved in the lives of Joe, a Maori man, and his foster son, Simon, a white child. Kerewin is separated from her family and living an isolated life by choice, but in despair for the family she has lost.

A family can be the bane of one's existence. A family can also be most of the meaning of one's existence. I don't know whether my family is bane or meaning, but they have surely gone away and left a large hole in my heart.

Joe is grieving the loss of his wife and natural child to flu, and he is struggling with the difficulties that come with being a single parent to his foster son, who has disabilities and sometimes unbridled rage. Simon is unable to speak, an affliction that stems from his own loss of parents, and which is apparently psychosomatic rather than physical, but he has an intelligence that is sharp and so he rebels against not being understood or sometimes even acknowledged. Unlikely as it seems, the three form a bond that stems from some ability they have to understand one another, an ability that no doubt stems from their lonely, unfathomable similarities.

There is, at the heart of this novel, a dichotomy that I had difficulty dealing with, and that is the idea that a person could love deeply someone and yet hurt them repeatedly and severely. In order for the book to work, I believe this is a contradiction that you must accept. And, you must accept this as a path to self-discovery and self-recognition that can bring redemption. While I doubt I could ever believe this in the real world I live in, somehow I came to within the confines of this story.

Another aspect of the book that is very important, and which I admit to understanding only on a level that feels wholly inadequate, is the Maori culture and the search for identity within the peoples of New Zealand. Both Joe and Kerewin are a part of the Maori culture, and both are trying to live within the Pakeha (European) culture that has displaced it. The strength for each of them comes from the connection to their Maori roots and a large part of their hope for salvation lies in being able to reconnect to that lost part of themselves. I believe it is no accident that the pure Maori, the mixed Maori/Pakeha, and the pure Pakeha are represented in the three main characters, and that part of the struggle for them is to learn how to live together in harmony.

This is not an easy book. It is well-written, but written in an unusual style that incorporates various voices and the use of both prose, poetry and a vague stream of consciousness. It suffers a few times from being bogged down and repetitive, and would have benefited from being cut down in length by a good editor. However, it is a prodigious enterprise that leaves a stunning impression on the reader. Hats off to Keri Hulme. Definitely worth the reading!
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Well that did not come together at all in the end.

So firstly ignore the title it doesn’t mean whatever you think it means. This is a drama mostly. There are some mystery elements but as i suspected from fairly early those go nowhere.

The writing is good with some flourishes than make it seem really good at times but nevertheless these elements of style are just that, flourishes. Little additions, the bedrock of the writing is simply good but its not one of those authors who’s style can make up for substantive problems.
The author, i think purposefully, invokes Joyce near the beginning but i don’t think there's much comparison which may be a relief to some ;) .

There were a number of plot elements i found annoying, including the fact that one character is clearly a version of Sherlock Holmes, and it means nothing.
However the character does have all of the annoying elements of Holmes to deal with, namely the fact that he’s just brilliant at everything, which makes the character feel utterly incongruous with the landscape and plot.
And maybe that's the point, that it was necessary to construct an out of place person but it still didn’t work for me.

The main reason it and several other plot/character choices didn’t land however is mainly the ending. If everything came together at the end then the journey would have been worth it no matter how roundabout it felt.
However it really feels like the author looked at the page count at some point and thought ‘oh god! that's too many pages, i need to end this NOW!’ .

The entire last quarter feels messy and rushed, with multiple Deus Ex Machina’s and the worst kind too, the religious/divine intervention kind, including character growth through religious epiphany which i really hated.

There were moments towards the end when i dropped as low as 2-stars and then others where i felt like i should leave it on a low 4-stars.
I might even have given it the 4-stars but the plot is all about these disparate elements coming together so the fact it feels like nothing really did come together properly is even more annoying a failure than if it had happened in a book with a different plot. ( )
  wreade1872 | Jul 25, 2022 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keri Hulmeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bok, AnnekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Grote ABC (623)
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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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