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The Bone People (1984)

by Keri Hulme

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,7961123,211 (4.08)491
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 491 mentions

English (103)  Dutch (6)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (112)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
The Bone People is a challenging book to read due to it's eclectic writing style. It breaks a lot of conventions and utilizes a variety of ways to let us see into the characters—though it's not always quite clear which character, or what is really happening, and certainly not why. The book probably needs re-reading a few times to truly be appreciated/analyzed.

At the core of it, however, is the strange relationship between a hermit painter who lives in her self-built tower, a very clever though mute child, and the child's foster father who can be very affectionate, but also very violent. The book has a few parts that are a bit tedious, but also quite a lot that are moving, shocking and suspenseful. It's certainly unlike anything I've ever read before. ( )
  adastra | Jan 15, 2024 |
Well. I loved it. I hated it. I had to take some time away for a bit. 100% glad i did it in a book club. ( )
  mslibrarynerd | Jan 13, 2024 |
Kerewin and Joe are an unlikely couple. They come together because of a mysterious mute boy of four or five named Simon. Confessional: I was not sure I was supposed to like Kerewin. She likes to drink herself into a stupor and, as a self-exiled recluse, she has the time and inclination to take to the bottle often. She also spends her time making art, having won her independent wealth from a lottery ticket. She is estranged from her family, considers herself unlovable, and doesn't like companionship so when she comes across mute Simon, she cannot explain why she takes him in. Second confessional: I wasn't sure I was supposed to like Joe. Hard working and rugged, Joe has been a self-imposed foster father to Simon. When provoked he likes to beat the tar out of someone, but he gives just as many kisses as he does kicks. His passions are confused. Third confessional: I wasn't sure I was supposed to like Simon. He's a devilish imp. He has a way of stealing things and acting out when he doesn't get his way. He can be just as violent as Kerewin and Joe in action and emotion. Yet...Kerewin, Joe, and Simon somehow belong together and I found myself rooting for them.
The Bone People is like a slow moving train. At first you are not sure if you are on the right ride, but once it gets going it's a runaway success. I couldn't put it down after the first hundred pages. Maybe it took me that long to get used to Hulme's style?
You know a book is going to be good when it is endorsed by Alice Walker. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Oct 11, 2023 |
This is a magnificent book. Beautiful written, almost poëtic. Kerewin, Joe and Simon ar forever in my heart. This is a book worth of rereading to gain more understanding each time you read it. Wow. ( )
  weaver-of-dreams | Aug 1, 2023 |
I have too many thoughts and feelings about this book to do it any justice. There is beauty and there is suffering. Sometimes I had to take breaks because it was so beautiful it hurt, sometimes I took breaks because there was simply too much hurting.

On a personal note, Kerewin reminded me very strongly of someone I used to know, someone who meant the world to me a lifetime ago. Everything that was art and knowledge and music and wordplay conjured this ghost out of my past. Bittersweet.

UPDATE: it has been years since I read this book, and the beauty has faded but the violence and suffering remain in my memory. Downgrading the star rating due to these disturbing feelings, which maybe isn't fair but is how I feel. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hulme, Keriprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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