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The Bone People

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  19,628 ratings  ·  1,764 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
Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 7th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published 1984)
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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)
Rebecca Bloom Not at all. It takes place in New Zealand and is a wonderful magical tale of three misfits.

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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  19,628 ratings  ·  1,764 reviews

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Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
* 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

In amongst some perhaps unfortunately worded statements, I finally found a
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

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)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Britta Böhler
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: femlit
I am a not overly enthusiastic about this book. Although some parts were beautifully written and engaging, in the end it failed to convince me.
The book deals with difficult issues, i,e. inter-familial violence, child abuse and alcoholism. Hulme paints a vivid, realistic picture and the characters (even the abusive stepfather) are not 'black and white'. But the 'hollywood-ending', where all is hopeful and the abusive father is reformed, didn't ring true to me.

Still, for readers interested in Ma
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Thomas Warf
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Deborah Pickstone
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favourites. A quirky book, very New Zealand - they produce some....unusual books and films here. The national psyche here is...bleaker - and darker - than would perhaps appear to the observer. At least, that is true if you look at the creative output with my (jaded?) eye!

If you would like to see what I mean, watch 'The Piano', 'Once Were Warriors' and 'Whale Rider' - which last is not so much dark as steeped in 'otherness'. This novel speaks so clearly to me of the New Zealand
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.

Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
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
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
Jun 06, 2007 rated it liked it
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
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Keri Hulme (born 9 March 1947) is a New Zealand writer. Her only novel, The Bone People, won the Booker Prize in 1985.

Hulme was born in Christchurch, in New Zealand's South Island. The daughter of a carpenter and a credit manager, she was the eldest of six children. Her parents were of English, Scottish, and Māori (Kai Tahu) descent. "Our family comes from diverse people: Kai Tahu, Kāti Mamoe (Sou

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