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The Bone People

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  21,471 ratings  ·  2,031 reviews
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
...more
Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 7th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published 1984)
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Rebecca Bloom Not at all. It takes place in New Zealand and is a wonderful magical tale of three misfits.
Beatriz A very, very special and strange child who find love. He was born in a lost land and he will try to find his place in the world, his place between Ker…moreA very, very special and strange child who find love. He was born in a lost land and he will try to find his place in the world, his place between Kerewin and Joe(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,471 ratings  ·  2,031 reviews


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Jude
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Adina
Nov 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
3.5*

Booker prize winner 1985

I am going to be short because it's been two months since I finished this omne. The Bone People is one of those novels which divide readers. Some love it and some hate it.

First of all, the writing style is extremely peculiar, a part poetry in prose, a part 3rd person narration and a part 1st person POV of different characters. The POV and writing style can change from one sentence to the next which gives the novel an air of surreality but it can also become frustrat
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Hugh
An original, personal and visceral novel, which for me is the kind of book that justifies the existence of the Booker Prize. The surface story is about the interactions between three difficult and damaged people, but there is a lot more to it than that - plenty of Maori culture, mythology and language (fortunately most of the latter is translated in the glossary) and a mixture of first and third person narrative voices including quite a lot of poetry. That may sound difficult, but the core story ...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 bu
...more
Paul
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
This was twelve years in the writing and was rejected by many publishers. It defies easy description and is very much set in the interface between Maori and western culture. There is complexity in the structure and a dose of magic realism at the end. The character of Kerewin Holmes is a remarkable creation who jumps out of the page.
The novel revolves around three characters. Kerewin Holmes is a solitary woman living in a tower, a painter who does not paint and who is estranged from her
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Trudie
* 1.5 *
( Warning : spoilers, trigger warnings and unpopular opinion time )

C.K Stead is a fairly divisive figure in NZ literature and has been roundly rebuffed for his criticisms of both The Bone People and The Luminaries
After reading The Bone People for myself I went searching for his much maligned letter to the London Review of Books (1985) entitled "Maoriness" which can be found here
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v07/n21/letters

In amongst some perhaps unfortunately worded statements, I finally found a
...more
Adam
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
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Hanneke
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So, okay, Ms. Hulme, I already felt rather suffocated by your novel throughout the book, but you really tried to strangle me with your final chapters. I was going to rate the novel 3 stars. However, after those last chapters, I will now grant it a mere one star plus another one for the rather picturesque writing throughout the book.

Let me explain. I rather liked the sing-song quality of the narrative and in particular the inserted little snippets of poetry, contemplations and lamentations. What
...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
Britta Böhler
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara
Art and family by blood; home and family by love…regaining any one was worth this fiery journey to the heart of the sun.


Keri Hulme’s The Bone People is a complex story of love, isolation, and a search for identity, set in her native New Zealand. Much of the complexity of this novel rises from its treatment of opposites and how they interact and weave together in a life. How, for example, do love and cruelty exist within the same person and toward the same object? How does a person sort the g
...more
Isis
Mar 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Lee
Jul 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Albert
The novel revolves around three characters and their relationships with one another; each of the three feels separated from their community for different reasons. Kerewin Holmes is a painter and a loner who values her solitude. She comes from a wealthy family from whom she is estranged, but she lacks for nothing material that she wants. She lives in a tower, alone, she does not seek out interaction with others, she does not like to be touched and like the author, considers herself asexual.

Joe G
...more
Meredith
Jun 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Vonia
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vivian
The ocean was the only song in the book that I enjoyed.

That said, it was a fascinating insight, but, like a door you never wished you opened. Hulme is a gifted wordsmith, rich, evocative language that paints a harsh and salt-stained landscape, which really gives a sense of New Zealand's vast wild spaces, also the staggering alcoholism, racial tensions and blithe brutality. . From a strictly objective point of view the story is stunning. Truly. Unfortunately, it is drawn out.

Reading about people
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this as part of my self-declared New Zealand November in 2015. It checks of a few boxes for me - Oceania 2015, a Man Booker Prize winner (I'd like to read them all eventually) from 1985, female author, etc. Keri Hulme is also part Maori, which made this a deeper cultural read about the country.

From the publisher's description, I was expecting a pretty straight-forward novel:
"In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Homes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her
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Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
I read this book not long after it's release. I remembered it having a slow start and then building up to a shattering climax.

The scenes that had an impact for me still do. This book does a wonderful job of exploring a complex relationship that was both loving & violent. (view spoiler) Some of the prose was quite beautiful & I didn't mind the liberties Hulme took with descriptive words.

There are al
...more
George Ilsley
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, re-read
Have read this NewZealand novel a few times, and it never fails to grab me and wrench me into feeling so bad, and so good, all at the same times. I recommend it to friends just to make them cry. It brings me joy whenever a reader has to cry.

2022 update: Just learned that Keri Hulme passed away in late December 2021. I may read this again, and shed a few tears in her memory.
Tania
Aug 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Wyndy
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the most original, difficult, and compelling books I’ve read in a long, long time. I don’t really know how to explain this novel or the spell it cast on me, so I’ll throw out some random tidbits: An artist and loner named Kerewin Holmes, estranged from her family and resistant to human touch, lives alone in a remote tower near the Tasman sea. A mute young boy washes up on a New Zealand beach, barely alive after surviving a boat wreck that assumedly kills his parents, with no clues to his ...more
Amanda
Nov 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. I first read this book in the early 90's and I didn't remember that much of the story but I remember living it. This time it was on track to be a 5 star read until I got to the last part and then it just went off the rails for me. Sometimes I really enjoy rereads and sometimes I think they are a terrible idea. ...more
Cherie
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
I don't hate it. Therefore, the two stars.
I do wish I understood it.

I am sure that this story was written about three people and a culture I do not understand.
It was an interesting experiment in a writing style all the author's own.
It was just too vague and cryptic for me to appreciate.

...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
Tai
Jan 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
This was a very difficult read for me. There are a few reasons for this but chiefly it is because this story is devastating.

We have a bizarre world and narrative to wade through, limericks and soliloquies, mysticism, maori history (and language) all combined with insanity. Three main characters who are out of their minds. Put this all together and a fresh, quirky story could be delivered but that's not what happened here. All of this was injected into the very real and horrifying reality of chi
...more
Laura
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sheet and apricocks what the berloody hell was that?!

This is one of the weirdest, most evocatively written and engaging books I’ve read in a very long time. The inventiveness of the language is just staggering. For the first third or so I was completely hooked and thought I’d discovered another all-time favourite, but it missed out on a five-star rating from me because the pace slowed in the middle third and then the final third was frankly just mad.

The book is about Kerewin Holmes (the author i
...more
John
Jan 12, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Thomas Warf
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Hulme, Keri (1947–2021), novelist, short story writer and poet, gained international recognition with her award-winning The Bone People. Within New Zealand she has held writing fellowships at several universities, served on the Literary Fund Advisory Committee (1985–89) and the Indecent Publications Tribunal (1985–90), and in 1986–88 was appointed ‘cultural ambassador’ while travelling in connecti ...more

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