The Bone People

A Novel

Hulme, Keri

Book - 1986
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Bone People
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.

Publisher: New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1986, c1983
ISBN: 0140089225
Branch Call Number: FICTION HULME 1986
Characteristics: 450 p. ;,20 cm


From Library Staff

This very different literary take on New Zealand is a love-it-or-hate-it book, a prizewinner which received strongly mixed reviews and is often described as “unusual”, something of an uh-oh word. Many readers are fiercely loyal to this story, experimental in style, of the intersecting lives of th... Read More »

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Jan 22, 2011
  • harkij rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Keri Hulme's The Bone People takes place in New Zealand and presents a slice of Maori life and culture. Kerewin, Joe, and Simon are the three main characters that tell the story. They are sad, sometimes bitter people who are haunted by their separate tragic pasts, and as a result end up isolating themselves from family and society. The three come together as strangers to themselves and to each other, but come to depend on one another in the end.

The author uses the English and Maori languages to add another subtext to the novel. At times it can be slow and difficult to read, but at the same time the incorrect usage of punctuation, grammar, and style enhances the reader's understanding of the characters' emotional and thinking processes.

The book left me with overall mixed feelings. There are some serious issues of abuse presented, particularly the roles people play in a domestic violence situtation: the abuser, the abused, and the witnesses who let it play out with little to no interference.

The Bone People is a well-written book that makes you think. I didn't care for the ending too much. It was the most abstract part of the book. While it gave an optimistic image of a big change, it also planted a little seed of doubt that this was simply an illusion, and truthfully, people can't change who they are.

Jan 03, 2011
  • gotluv rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This is an incredibly well-written novel and completely worthy of the 1985 Man-Booker prize. The story is brutal and hard to process emotionally sometimes. Yet like the proverbial train wreck it's hard to look away and put the book down. Keri Hulme created the characters as complex, interesting and real with heart-wrenching flaws, all too human and prone to failure.

This story is a strong testament to the gift of forgiveness, the strength of love in the loss of innocence and the importance of family. Whether that sense of family manifests as blood relations, cultural bonds or spiritual connectedness the responsibilities of those different ties engender many of the same values of respect and compassion even when we cannot understand motive. It is not an easy or a happy novel.

Hulme uses the New Zealand Maori culture and especially the language to connect the reader to the story and the characters. I enjoyed looking up the translations although some readers may not care to be flipping back to the meanings at the end of the book.

Nov 29, 2010
  • doodletoo rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Brutality and alcoholism romanticized, by the end I felt kind of dirty reading it because it's some of the best writing I've read.
I understand that some of the ideas are about people being imperfect and still very likable. That people can heal and we can have hope. But doesn't it kind of make you want to throw up when, say the repeatedly battered wife goes back to her husband because they have so much love for each other? Isn't it even more revolting when it's a seven year old child? I get that in real life the 7 year old would want to go back. That the parent would want him back and that true love and abuse can sometimes coexist. But the writer is so clearly rooting for them to reunite. Like that's some kind of good thing. I won't buy that. Even though with her great writing I wanted it to happen too. That fact is, it's gross. I felt bad at myself for wanting the reunion. The only way I could almost be okay with this is if I think of the story as allegory and even then it's hard


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