New Zealand: The Bone People Review

Title: The Bone People
Author: Keri Hulme
Genre: Fiction

Blurb: In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, 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 Maori 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.

Me: Unconventional and groundbreaking, but also confusing and unresolved.

The Ups: This book is truly extraordinary. It doesn't care about following any conventions of fiction, and doesn't hide from disclosing everything about its characters. The manipulation of language and the frequent cross between the spiritual and real realm is unapologetic. It definitely trusts in an intelligent reader, or doesn't really pay much mind to a total comprehension of the story by the reader. 

I loved the three main characters in this: Kerewin, Simon, and Joe. Kerewin is definitely the focus of the novel, a strong, resilient woman who is also grappling with herself and how to handle her inability to create like before. Her relationship with Simon is so intriguing, as she interacts with him almost as a maternal figure, with a want to love and protect, but also struggles with her own growing affection for the boy, realizing she knows almost close to nothing about him. 

Joe, who has an extremely complex relationship with Kerewin, one of love and comfort but also of hurt and distance, brought up all kinds of conflicting emotions in me. He tests the reader's moral compass, committing absolutely horrible acts to his child but still loving him. He provoked a lot of thoughts in my head about how the expression of love and loving someone right can be unintentionally skewed for a lot of people.
Watching these three get to know each other and seeing the distinct, fully formed, discoveries of themselves was very enjoyable.

The Downs: That being said, probably because the piece is so experimental in a lot of its choices, I found myself confused and sometimes detached and bored while reading. The book is very long, and already from the first few pages it wasn't clear what exactly was occurring. When I spent more time with the story, it mostly made sense, but I still had aspects, especially as I neared the end of the book, that I couldn't make sense of. It made the finish of the book empty and unremarkable. 

Being set in New Zealand, there is definitely a strong mention and connection to Maori history and culture in the book. It's very subtly weaved in, and I thought it could have been more intriguing to see it more clearly explored, especially as the scenes where the spirituality of the culture was the focus I found difficult to comprehend. 

The writing style also felt quite drawn out and incorporated sometimes ethereal and other times difficult imagery. It was a hit-or-miss for a lot of the descriptions and plot points. Some I adored, some I wanted to skip entirely. Probably expected from the experimental nature of the novel, but there were definitely parts I couldn't connect with. 
"They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. 
Together, all together, they are the instruments of change."

Rating: 3 kisses!

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