on 14 November 2002
This is a story about three people, but it is moreover an account of a culture that has been splintered by colonialism. There were a lot of critical arguments circulating at the time of this novel's publication because there was a heavy debate over what the Maori culture should represent itself as and if this female author was doing it properly. The powerful thing about the novel is that while reading it you are hardly aware of the culture representation because at the heart of the story is the conflicts of the central characters. But likewise, when you stand back to look at the novel you see is that the influence of Maori culture is everywhere present in this novel. Instead of trying to interpret these characters as cultural symbols, perhaps they should be conceived as individuals coming to terms with their own identity like anyone else. Kerewin has all the marking of the stereotypical independent artist. She even lives in a tower by the sea, but she is unable to paint. You will find her overpowering ego annoying, but I think you are meant to. Her rapture with herself is one of the things she must learn to overcome throughout the novel. All of the three main characters have a form of artistic expression that is being suppressed through a division in their identity. They must each overcome a barrier before they can truly express themselves and they can only do this together. The interactions between the characters are a masterful portrayal of the way in which close people, especially family members, can avoid some of the most obvious conflicts in their lives when to anyone else they would be quite evident. Toward the end of the novel the characters sink into an almost mythical state of being where their only hope of survival is through a reinvention of their being. This is a sharp departure from the straightforward story up until this point. But it is gradually introduced through a growing emphasis on the internal processes of the characters by narrating their thoughts.
I found it disappointing that this novel wasn't properly edited before publication. For some reason the author views this as something to boast about, but I found that a rewording of some phrases and maybe slight cuts for some of the superfluously long scenes would have added to the immense pleasure of reading this astounding novel. Still, as you can tell, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of it.
on 10 April 2009
This is the story of three unforgettable characters, Kerewin, a hemit and artist, Joe a hard drinking widower and his adopted mute son Simon.
How can I even begin to review this really quite atonishing book. It is sometimes hard to read on two levels; hard because some of the things these characters do to one another, and the repercussions - made me almost want to look away, but also because of the langauge used in the novel. There are many maori phrases, words and names, even the print is not always arranged in a conventional way. At times the story of Simon, Kerewin and Joe is nothing short of heartbreaking, it is often brutal, horribly so. What fascinated me was the idea of how three people only really worked when they were together, that despite the terrible things that were visted upon Simon, I found myself slowly beginning to forgive Joe and Kerewin for their betrayl of one of the most memorable child characters I have read about. There were several times when I had tears in my eyes as I read, and I think I'll continue to think about Simon in particular for some time to come.
A wonderfully strange, original, and very compelling novel. It's written in what I consider quite a poetic style - not something I usually enjoy, so for the first few pages I expected not to like it. But this is a book that gets under your skin. It's incredibly readable - unputdownable in the second half. The emotions are raw and powerful, the brutality heartbreaking. Despite it's mythical elements, it never seems whimsical or implausible - there's a firm grounding in reality.
The story centres on three very lonely, damaged people and their efforts to connect meaningfully with each other and the world - with mixed results. One is an embittered reclusive artist, another an orphaned and deeply disturbed mute child, and the third a widowed factory worker who feels that nothing in his life has worked out. I could believe in all of the characters and understand the emotions that drove them - even if their actions were sometimes terrible.
The use of Maori phrases littered throughout the story - another technique (in any language) that I'm not a fan of - actually works well here. I found myself picking up the more common words and most are used in a context that makes it easy to guess without spoiling the flow of the text. There's a translation section at the back, conveniently arranged in page order.
Overall this is a thought provoking book that manages to really say something about the nature of human relationships - love, hate, loneliness - and the need of people to be with other people. It's also very gripping. A story that is both profound and highly readable - not something you come across too often, and definitely one of the worthiest winners of the Booker Prize.
This is no mere book. Rather, it is an experience. An experience which covers virtually the whole gamut of human emotion. It resonates with beautiful poetry and is steeped in the deep spirituality of the Maori people. Their beautiful language (translated in a glossary at the back) peppers the narrative of this achingly poignant story of the (originally) hermit like Kerewin, Joe and his adopted son, Simon. They are drawn to each other, and indeed they have many similarities. All are nursing some deep private hurt from the past and as such each has their own barriers and each can be their own worst enemy. Yet each of them, too is possessed of a deep, fierce love for the others and a strong sense of community.
So much drama is contained in these 450 pages that you may think the plot line would be jumbled and incoherent. This is emphatically not so – the plot line never falters. Through this novel, too, we are made to confront our own judgements and prejudgements about subjects such as child abuse and behavioural difficulties. There is so much humanity in this book – we are forced to see each character as a rounded person with good and bad attributes. Nothing is black and white, Keri Hulme seems to be telling us. No one is wholly a monster nor wholly a saint. This point is really hammered home in the final few chapters, which are some of the most harrowing and yet joyful passages of literature I have ever read.
Never before have I read such a powerful, majestic, spiritual and thoroughly human book. I had to read it in bits, and come back to it again and again; it was such a potent and heady brew. I invite you, no, implore you, to dip into this multifaceted and precious treasure. It will be an experience you will never forget, I guarantee.
on 1 March 2012
The Booker prize loved it and hated it, our book group loved it and hated it, but I loved it, and amongst my friends, they all remember it as being 'that book' that they never knew whether to love or hate. Well this isn't Marmite (or, I suppose, Vegemite) but instead a wonderfully phonetic, evocative and beautifully written novel that haunts me 13 years after I first read it. I adore this novel, it would be my Desert Island Discs choice to be castaway with. I'm 31, I don't know much about Keri Hulme, but I hope hope hope that she one day writes another book. Hug it, keep it in your backpack, take it to far-flung beaches, or airports in the middle of the night, but read every word as it is written, for it is pure music.
on 5 August 1999
This is a densely woven, idiosyncratic book written from three separate viewpoints. It deals with the nature of relationships, the nature of selfhood and the meaning of family and cultural values. Drawing upon the Maori culture and history it blends narrative and philosophy, twisting and turning, and carrying the reader on a voyage of discovery. Each reading reveals additional levels and complexities of narrative, touching on the meaning of identity and the fusion of past present and future, and provides confirmation that this one of the outstanding works of literature of the decade if not the century.
on 13 July 2013
Keri (female) Hulme's first novel, set in beachside New Zealand. An interaction between a man, a woman and a boy. Before this book Keri had published poetry, and it shows, as words have been used to convey ideas rather than be specific (but not all the time.) This is not a book that you could put down for a few days and come back to - the impression would be lost. But then....you wont want to put it down for a few days.
hulme"Walking the innocent stick alongside, matching its step to hers, she climbs back up the sandhills. Down the other side in a rush, where it is dark and damp still, crashing through loose clusters of lupins. Dew sits in the centre of each lupin-leaf, hands holding jewels to catch the sunfire until she brushes past and sends the jewels sliding, drop by drop weeping off. The lupins grow less; the marram grass diminishes into a kind of reedy weed; the sand changes by degrees into mud. It's an estuary, where someone built a jetty, a long time ago. The planking has rotted, and the uneven teeth of the pilings jut into nowhere now.
It's an odd macabre kind of existence. While the nights away in drinking, and fill the days with petty killing. Occasionally, drink out a day and then go and hunt all night, just for the change.
She shakes her head. Who cares? That's the way things are now. I care.
A great poetic novel but the boy in the novel is abused by the man. Because of this, the book will leave different impressions on different people so it could be a good idea to look at other reviews before choosing.
A hard, but rewarding read; Keri Hulme takes us into the company of three damaged people in a small New Zealand community.
Kerewin is disturbed by the sudden presence of Simon, the mute six year old, who has a propensity for trouble. When his polite father arrives to execute his son's intrusion, she recognises him as the mouthy drunk she recently saw in the local pub.
There is a terrible violence underpinning the relationship of father and son along with a great affection which is gradually revealed through the interaction of the main characters. The tie that binds them is woven tight and results in Kerewin's consummate work of art that will hold them together forever.
Somewhere underneath the tangled emotional web runs a Maori sensibility that surfaces in a mystical revelation when the three are forcibly separated. Subconscious archetypes abound as the story moves to an equable conclusion.
The language can be evocatively descriptive, earthily direct, or bilingual. In some ways it mirrors the art that Kerewin is working so hard to create.
This is a deeply involving book that takes the reader on an almost spiritual quest.
Its happy ending is of its time for with such content it would be unlikely that an author now would allow such a "satisfactory" conclusion; the world and its attitudes have moved on.
on 1 December 2014
The Bone People is an extraordinary book. It tells a story that is always uncomfortable and edgy, and yet does so with a strange beauty and style. The trinity of characters at the heart of this book are all damaged and hurting, and to a greater or lesser extent are hurtful and damaging. And yet, despite the horrific nature of some of what is related you find yourself drawn to the strange synchronicity of their interconnected lives. The author manages to portray an incredible beauty in these people - a beauty they would probably not have seen in themselves, and few around them would have recognised. In the guise of this love story and mystery tale, the author also engages us in questions about cultural identity and spirituality - particularly at the intersection of Maori and 'Western' culture and faith. The exploration of isolation and solitariness, language and meaning, violence and control is rooted in one narrative, but points to bigger issues in the culture of New Zealand which have relevance on a wider stage.
I believe this is the only full length novel Keri Hulme has written, but what a novel! The fact that she is an accomplished poet is also clear in the thought language of the main characters. The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985, and would easily make it into my top ten Booker winners.
on 2 July 2010
I bought the book to read for our Book Club as someone had recommended it. I found it quite a hard book to get into with pages of descriptive sequences and poetry, that for me, got in the way of the actual story. The characters are all quite difficult individuals and it does make quite a painful read at times and challenges perceptions about what is right and wrong. Good points - interesting topic, challenging and certainly not one dimensional but on the negative side it is overly long and laden with description/dream sequences. On the whole I enjoyed it and we had great discussion at our group about it.