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The Bone People

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  12,312 ratings  ·  1,069 reviews
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 als ...more
Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 7th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published February 1984)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jude
Sep 06, 2007 Jude rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who is inetersted in unusual works of fiction
I have read this book 11 times. It's not because of my faulty memory (although I do have one), it is because this is my favorite fiction book of all time. The shape is unusual for a novel - it is not told in one voice or from one point of view. At times there is an omniscient narrator and at others it is told in the first person. It is the story of the journeys of three people back to the landscape of family. Sometimes free verse, sometimes standard prose, always poetic. Keri Hulme plays with th ...more
Whitaker
This novel is a shining jewel, one with a huge flaw in its centre.

diamond with a flaw

It is still, however, an impressive and beautiful work, and a hugely ambitious one: an attempt to create a story that marries the disparate identities—Maori and European—that make up present day New Zealand. There is a realism-based story of friendship, self-destruction, and child abuse, and there is a symbolism-filled story of healing, catharsis, and the necessary fusing of Maori and European civilisations. Each is well-told but
...more
Aubrey
4.5/5

A rare mix of characters and languages and emotions indeed. Gripping. Kerewin is one of my all-time favorite characters; she's everything I am and so much more. The talent and the energy and the drive. Simply beautiful. I can't forgive Joe though. I can't. (view spoiler)
...more
Lee
When I recommended this book to my book club several years ago, the only other woman who had read it glared at me and said "if we pick this book, I am going to be REALLY mad at you" and so I withdrew the suggestion. This winner of the Man Booker prize is painful to read. It forces the reader to consider the complexity of human nature and behavior -- how thin the line can be between love and abuse. It is set in New Zealand and is about three wounded and likeable characters - a man, a woman, and a ...more
Meredith
I cannot put my finger on why I love this book. I didn't really think it all that special when I read it, but it has stayed in my mind so vividly when many a lesser book has dissipated from my memory. I think the authors descriptions are understated while being vivid. I read the book years ago and I can still remember clearly descriptions of meals cooked, of the matter-of-fact efficiency the main character displayed in her solitude. All of the characters are overtly flawed, and the author doesn' ...more
Isis
I out myself as a philistine, I guess, with my dislike of this painfully literary book, which I read only because I was in New Zealand and thought I ought to read a famous NZ author. Once I got past the aggressively defensive introduction (Idiosyncratic Author is idiosyncratic! I can dizzily swap first-person POV and use my own grammar and make up my own words because I am Artistic!) and the Mary-Sueish tinge of the central character being named after the author (*headdesk*), I found this book.. ...more
Erin
I hate this book. I'm not sure that there is any book on the planet I dislike as much as this one. I read it for a book group several years ago, and I was the only member of the group who didn't adore it. I was shocked that my opinion of the book was diametrically opposed to that of every other member of the group. I remember going on a rant about how horrible this book was to the literacy coach at Ryder Academy (oh, 87th Street, how I miss you), and then chucking it several feet across the clas ...more
Michael
It was a gloomy and stormy night, a mute 7 year old boy, Simon shows at the hermit Kerewin’s tower. The next morning his adoptive father, Joe came to pick him up. Because Simon couldn’t explain his motives, Kerewin has to rely on Joe to tell their curious story. A storm earlier that year sees Simon wash up on a beach with no memory or clue of his identity. Joe and his now deceased wife took the troubled boy in, but the traumatised boy is just too hard to cope with.

The Maori people use bones as t
...more
Thomas Warf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tania
The Bone People is, quite simply, the most powerful, moving, stunning book I have ever read. The characters are well drawn. I wanted to hate Joe, but he was in so much pain that I couldn't, really. I never excused what he did - and Hulme did not ask the reader to do that. She challenges the reader to look at our society as a whole; to see what we do to people and how we as communities play a role in creating some of the violent, terrible situations that result in children being abused.

I know th
...more
Charmayne
Read this for Intro English my freshman year and recently re-read it.
The book centers around three main characters, but their relationship with one another is best left up to the reader to determine as the story unfolds.
Hulme is a self-identified bicultural writer, which makes The Bone People a bicultural text, incorporating both Maori and Pakeha influences within the New Zealand setting. According to my professor: "One of Hulme's high school teachers, responding to her writing, told her her wr
...more
Jenny
This was my second time of reading The Bone People. I remember loving it the first time around, but I also remember thinking that it was flawed in many little ways (the very beginning, the sketchy end, the way the story's strands seem to escape Keri Hulme in the last third) yet whenever I've stumbled upon it on GR I kept being surprised at my 4*rating, since there's many five* reads that I remember much less and that had less of an emotional impact on me. I think this time I've surrendered to my ...more
L
What a strange style Hulme has used to present her story. It took me probably 15 or 20 pages to figure out how to read this book. But once it opened for me--wow! By page 34, I love both Kerewin (artist (estranged from her art), exile (from her family), dislikes people, especially children) and Simon (the child, naturally, speechless, which is less expected).

By the half-way point Hulme has moved away from the sunny view of "cranky loner woman falls in love with strange child and all is happy." N
...more
Lucy
i loved this book so much! i don't know why it's taken me so long to write this post, since i've been wanting to rave about the book since i finished it. i was a bit dubious when i read the introductory note about it having non-standard grammar etc, but it was so good! i think i even liked it enough to kick cryptonomicon off my literary speed dating list, except that i don't think it would create the right impression... the language is beautiful and the characters are wonderfully real and comple ...more
Janice
I have a feeling this book is going to haunt me for a very long time. Given that, I should bump my rating up a little higher. Except...

... the writing style was very different from anything I've read before. I did get the hang of it eventually except that I was confused by the Mauri language (in spite of the dictionary at the back) and the symbolism.

The themes of alcoholism and child abuse were disturbing. The characters weren't all that likeable, and yet, in some strange way, I grew to like the
...more
Adam
The Bone People had been on my to-read shelf for almost a year, so I decided that it was a good first read of 2013. I wanted to like it; indeed, for the first hundred pages or so, I did. The language is unconventional but richly textured and evocative (and exotic to this American boy). This was enough that I didn't notice some major flaws until I was too far in to quit reading. Once I noticed them, however, they were impossible to un-notice.

My first problem with the book is that one slowly reali
...more
Michael
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jane
I’ve just finished reading The Bone People. I chose it because I am travelling to New Zealand in a few weeks and I find it enriching to read books by authors of the country I am going to. When I researched NZ books, this one was mentioned as a classic NZ book. When I saw that it was Booker Prize winner, I was prepared for a challenging read with complex emotions and relationships. And so it is. A very powerful story, and written beautifully and creatively – I enjoyed the use of words and imagery ...more
Shandy
Mar 07, 2008 Shandy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Amber
This is a book that people either love or hate. It deals with issues that are normally in black and white, and paints them in shades of gray.

The protagonist, Kerewin Holmes, part white, part Maori, lives alone in a lighthouse in New Zealand. Set in her ways, she is content to live out her days in solitude. One day a mysterious, silent, blonde boy winds up on her beach. Unsure how to handle this situation, she deals with it the best she can by taking him in and slowly figures out who his caretake
...more
Booknblues
Three is the magic number of Keri Hulme's book The Bone People. Three people, Kerewin Holmes an artist who lives by the sea in an enchanted tower which she built, Joe a Maori man who lives in a house of pain of his own creation and Simon the lost child who searching for a home, band together to form a strange family.
These three become involved with each other in a dance of death and destruction and a battle for redemption of the human spirit. They make up the family of man or the bone people, br
...more
Kate
I don't much care for the star metric of rating books along the like - dislike spectrum. it is at best an imperfect proxy for communicating both the quality and impact of a book. i can't, for example, honestly say that "i really liked" this book; hulme's narrative left me feeling manipulated and abused.

its a simple enough story of the relationship between a woman, a mute boy and his father. and i think many people might mistakenly assume that this is a story fundamentally about colonialism and
...more
Ruby
The book is set in New Zealand and revolves around three broken people who lives become entangled. It is heart-wrenching and disturbing...yet very beautiful. When I originally read this book in the late '80s and it haunted me for a long time. I was very drawn to it even though I had found it emotionally draining. It's a difficult read, partly because of the content (child abuse, alcoholism, etc.) and partly because of the writing style. I couldn't get it out of my mind. Almost 10 years later I r ...more
sab
Apr 13, 2008 sab rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to sab by: Saw someone's fanatical 5 star and thought I should check it out
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cheryl
Arg. Not sure I like the description here, as it seems to make this seem almost cliched & simplistic. For example, there's actually v. little tension between Maori/Pakeha, whether in the same community or same person. And love story? Well, this is the kind of love that is more alien than almost any explored in science fiction about extra-terrestrials.

The novel is brilliant. It's both high literature and accessible reading. I want to love it and recommend it widely. But why, oh why, do intell
...more
Vibina Venugopal
I haven't often come across disturbing characters at a single go, they are so alluringly haunting , I had taken for granted that only memoir could be like this..Do use the Index in the book or else anything in Maori language and its culture would just go over the head..I found the dialogues and thoughts of characters to be very confusing, many times I kept wondering what and where and how things are going on..But that is Hulme's style even through the strange confusions you don't really want to ...more
Sarah
Just finished it. I have to say, it is a difficult read, I think mostly because of the whiskey induced, puzzling prose. However, since I love puzzles, I parsed this one out in this way... This main character, she is alcoholic, but totally in control of herself. She reserves all her energy for herself, is mostly androgenous, and is wound up in this hybrid European/Maori mix... She is all of both. She is fascinated by spirals, and in a way, the book is written in a spiral, switching viewpoints as ...more
Courtney
Set in New Zealand, 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, who is both tender and brutal toward the boy. Through ...more
Jasmine
This book started out slow, sped up and got really interesting, got really sad and lost some tension, got a little more exciting... and then dropped it completely.

I enjoyed the writing style and the language. Hulme spent a lot of time fleshing out her characters, but not enough time fleshing out the plot.

It started with a great mystery, a semi-cheesy/boring love story, but not a lot of Maori culture/mythology. As the book progressed, the mystery was completely forgotten, the love story dropped
...more
Heather
My all time favorite book. Part poetry, part allegory, part narrative... the writing enticed me to attempt the book just one more time all through college, until I finally found my affinity for it. My life has consistently spiralled back to poor Kerewin, and I still haven't found what brings me back time after time. Is it the language? The landscape? The story of Simon, finally able to speak and integrate his trauma? I am now finding that Simon gave me unbelievable empathy for my own child, who' ...more
ruzmarì
There was a time when I bought every copy I could find of this novel, in used bookstores because it had gone out of print. My debit card is happy that time is over, but seeing the title again here I realize how I have missed the bleak magic of Hulme's prose and the magical bleakness of the world she crafted in this breakthrough novel. If you don't suffer a little as you read it, you have a heart made of stone. This novel is a doorway to a whole new world of writing.
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Keri Hulme was a writer in residence at Otago University in New Zealand in 1978, and in 1985 at the University of Canterbury. Her first novel The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985. Hulme’s other works include The Windeater / Te Kaihu (1982), a collection of short stories, and Homeplaces (1989), her homage to three coasts of the South Island. She lives in New Zealand.

By 1985 Keri Hulme had a
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More about Keri Hulme...
Te Kaihau: The Windeater Stonefish Strands Lost Possessions Homeplaces

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“You want to know about anybody? See what books they read, and how they've been read...” 2557 likes
“A family can be the bane of one's existence. A family can also be most of the meaning of one's existence. I don't know whether my family is bane or meaning, but they have surely gone away and left a large hole in my heart.” 32 likes
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