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The Bone People

The Bone People

A Novel

Book - 1985
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The powerful, visionary, Booker Award-winning novel about the complicated relationships between three outcasts of mixed European and Maori heritage

"This book is just amazingly, wondrously great." --Alice Walker

In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes: part Maori, part European, asexual and aromantic, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor--a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon's feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where indigenous and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge.

Winner of both a Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize for Literature, The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.

The Penguin Ink Series

For seventy-five years, Penguin has paired the best in literature with the best in graphic design. In celebration of our anniversary, a selection of Penguin's most distinctive contemporary books now features covers specially designed by the world's top illustrative artists.

Publisher: Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 1985, c1983
Edition: U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780143116455
Call Number: F HULME KE
Characteristics: 450 p. ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

List - SFPL: Oceania
SFPL_AbrahamI May 16, 2018

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 e... Read More »

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ChristchurchLib Feb 17, 2021

Controversial winner of the 1985 Booker Prize. Set on the rugged South Island beaches, Hulme cleverly entwines Māori myth with Christian symbolism. Possibly not for the light-hearted reader!

Jan 20, 2021

Such a gut wrenching story about damaged people, frustration, bitterness, being alone and drinking.

harley26 Jun 29, 2020

I read this many years ago and have never forgotten it. It is one of my favorite books of all time. Incredibly moving, thought provoking. It has stayed with me all this time. Highly recommended.

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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