Feb 2, 2008

The Bone People

by Keri Hulme

There are three main figures in The Bone People. Kerewin, a reclusive New Zealand artist estranged from her family and her art. Joe, a Maori laborer with a terrible drinking problem. And Simon, a small, strangely mute child. Joe found Simon on the beach after a shipwreck and became his foster father. But he can't control Simon's wild, erratic behavior. The two troublemakers strike up a strange friendship with the aloof Kerewin, revolving around the mystery of Simon's origins and behavior. All three of them are terribly dysfunctional people in their own way, seeking healing and trying to find a sense of family together. When I first read the book, I assumed Simon was autistic. But it turns out that something entirely different is going on. I won't give that away, but I do have to warn that there are explicit scenes of abuse which shocked and saddened me; however by that point in the novel I felt sympathetic to the characters; they were so real I could still care about them and finish the story.

I had difficulty reading this book at first. It always came across nonsensical and I couldn't make it through the prologue. Then I skipped it and started on the first chapter. Much easier to read, and I was quickly enthralled with Hulme's use of language. The book is written in almost a stream of consciousness fashion, alternating between present and past tense. The words swing from vivid, poetic descriptions to the often crude, rough talk between people and exotic-sounding Maori phrases (short glossary included in the back). The style is so unique I think it is a book you will either love (myself) or hate (my husband). It is really a strange, beautiful, sad and amazing book. It won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1985. Not only does the story address grief, love, isolation, violence and redemption; it also deals with the conflict and meeting of Maori and European cultures. One of my very favorite books.

Rating: 5/5                366 pages, 1984


  1. Your description of the book intrigues me. Was this a library book or one that I could read next time I am in town or you are home?

  2. What a great review! I have this book among my TBR collection and hope to read it one of these days. It sure sounds intriguing!

  3. Terra- It's one I own. You're welcome to read it next time you visit!

    Literary Feline- Definitely one that should be at the top of the TBR pile!

  4. Anonymous2/05/2008

    This is a lovely review. I had a lot of trouble with this book when I read it, but I've come to appreciate what Hulme was trying to do. I'd be interested in reading some more of her work one of these days.

  5. Verbivore- the only other book I know of that she's published is The Windeater. I tried to read it once, and it was very difficult. Couldn't do it. Let me know if you find something else of hers more reader accessible!

  6. I'm so glad you liked this book! I read it a few years ago for a Post-Colonial lit class and really enjoyed it. And I agree that even after finding out certain things, its so difficult to not care about the characters--espcially as Joe is going through his moment near the end. This is one I would certainly read again.

  7. Trish- I know very few people who've read this and liked it. Most I mention it to have never heard of it. It's such a poignant story. One of the few books that actually made me feel sick and cry as well as laugh and smile!


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