Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review - The Bone People by Keri Hulme

A bewitching fusion of Maori ancient traditions and humanities timeless imperfections

I am emotionally exhausted after spending the last two weeks reading The Bone People. As hard as I tried, I was never able to sit for more than an hour with these destructive and severely marred characters. Hulme's portrayal of the complex and layered relationship between a perpetrator of abuse and his battered victim is so accurate that I can only assume that she has been through a similar trauma in her own life.

Our protagonist - or antihero, in my opinion- is a troglodyte drunkard who is forced out of her self-imposed exile by a visit from a neighbouring impish boy, who happens to be mute. Against all odds an endearing relationship is forged between these two misfits, as Kerewin finds herself protecting Simon from the harsh hand of his overwhelmed and iron-fisted father.

It wasn't just disturbing content that had me straining to get through this finely printed, 450-page novel, as some of the book was written in the Maori language, and as a result we are forced to use an index of translations found at the back of the book in order to comprehend the contrasting cultural references. I am just thankful that I discovered the index by accident before I started, or else it would have been even more confusing and frustrating to wade through. Not only was it easily missed, it was annoying to have to flip to the back of the book, and as such I feel it would have been much more efficient to have just footnoted the translations at the bottom of each page respectively.

Ultimately Hulme's novel is poetic, inspiring of vivid imagery, and definitely worthy of more than one read in order to grasp all that it has to offer. Through unique customs and folklore we learn about the extraordinary ways of New Zealand's indigenous people, while we relate to their commonality through situations that are shared by emotionally damaged and flawed people from anywhere around the world.

3.5/5 Snakes


  1. This one is actually one I really, really want to read. My friend Chris suggested it to me, and then later bought it for me for Christmas. I'm a bit intimidated by it, but it sounds so good, too...

  2. I understand what you're saying, and I too was a bit trepidatious before attempting this book. That being said, it is a story that deserves to be read, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make you feel.

    It is sometimes incoherent, often beautiful and always honest. And the icing on the cake; you get to learn about the highly spiritual and compassionate Maori people along the way.

  3. I am in the last pages of this fascinating book - I am not repulsed by the people - all too human - and a glimpse into a culture that is rich with
    tradition and lore