The Bone People

The Bone People

A Novel

Book - 2005
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Integrating both Maori myth and New Zealand reality, The Bone People became the most successful novel in New Zealand publishing history when it appeared in 1984. Set on the South Island beaches of New Zealand, a harsh environment, the novel chronicles the complicated relationships between three emotional outcasts of mixed European and Maori heritage. Kerewin Holmes is a painter and a loner, convinced that "to care for anything is to invite disaster." Her isolation is disrupted one day when a six-year-old mute boy, Simon, breaks into her house. The sole survivor of a mysterious shipwreck, Simon has been adopted by a widower Maori factory worker, Joe Gillayley, who is both tender and horribly brutal toward the boy. Through shifting points of view, the novel reveals each character's thoughts and feelings as they struggle with the desire to connect and the fear of attachment.

Compared to the works of James Joyce in its use of indigenous language and portrayal of consciousness, The Bone People captures the soul of New Zealand. After twenty years, it continues to astonish and enrich readers around the world.

Publisher: Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
London : Picador, 2001, c1984.
ISBN: 9780807130728
Characteristics: 450 p. ;,24 cm.
ix, 546 p. ;,20 cm.


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May 21, 2019

Kerewin Holmes lives an ascetic lifestyle in a stone tower on the coast of New Zealand, desiring little more than to enjoy her art and music (and booze) in solitude. She arrives home one day to discover an interloper, a young boy -- bedraggled and seemingly mute. She tends to a wound in his foot and finds him a place to sleep, and on the following day a family member eventually arrives to collect him. This is the story of the often tender and frequently troubling relationship between Kerewin, the boy Simon, and his father Joe.

I think I liked this book, though it was disturbing in a number of ways. It has an unusual story arc and a unique plot, and I often found myself wondering, "What am I reading? Where is this going?" It was helpful upon completion to return and reread the first few chapters for additional insight. I still have questions, though...

Mar 22, 2019

Too gorgeous, too moving for words. I can't imagine a more deep-cutting and compassionate story about trauma and healing.

mko123 Jul 09, 2018

A part-Maori, part European artist who has won the lottery, wants nothing more than to live alone in her tower, undisturbed. But a 6-year-old verbally handicapped boy wonders into her home one night and life changes. Eventually, the boys adoptive and widowed father shows up and so begins an intricate, difficult bonding of three deeply wounded people . The three all have the spirit of the Maori within them , trying to live in an alienated white world.This is a difficult book to read but it is ultimately redemptive.

Jul 03, 2015

This was written over 20 years ago, but was of interest to me as I was in New Zealand this year. The characters are all out of the ordinary.

Jan 22, 2011

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

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.

Aug 25, 2010

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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