The Bone People by Keri Hulme
A Novel

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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 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 Gillayley, who is both tender and horribly brutal toward the boy. Through shifting points of view, the novel reveals each character’s thoughts and feelings as they struggle with the desire to connect and the fear of attachment.

Compared to the works of James Joyce in its use of indigenous language and portrayal of consciousness, The Bone People captures the soul of New Zealand. After twenty years, it continues to astonish and enrich readers around the world.


About Keri Hulme

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Keri Hulme had been writing for several years, little known outside New Zealand feminist and Maori literary circles. Then, during the mid-1980s, she gained international attention for her novel The Bone People. In 1984 she received the Mobil Pegasus Award for Maori Writers and the New Zealand Book of the Year Award for fiction, and, in the following year, the distinguished Booker-McConnel Prize, Britain's highest literary honor. Hulme, who was born in Christchurch, is of Maori descent on her mother's side; her father was an Englishman from Lancashire. Studying for a law degree but not completing it, she worked at various jobs before settling down to write full time. The Bone People (1984) remains Hulme's major work. Almost impossible to describe in a coherent way, the novel is a sprawling and puzzling story about a relationship between a strange child, a powerful woman named Kerewin who reluctantly takes him in, and the child's father, who treats him brutally. According to the critic Margery Fee, the implausible yet metaphoric and sophisticated structure of the text sets out "to rework the old stories that govern the way New Zealanders---both Maori (indigenous New Zealanders) and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European origin)---think about their country." Hulme has also published two books of short stories about Maori life, Lost Possessions (1985) and Te Kaihau: The Windeater (1986); the short fiction, too, incorporates the intentionally chaotic and often bombastic style that dominates The Bone People. She has written two volumes of free verse as well, The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) (1982) and Strands (1992). Hulme has received extensive attention from international critics who see her, as Margery Fee says, in the forefront of the "postcolonial discursive formation evolving worldwide"---that is, writers who have set out to reinvent the history of imperialism.
Published October 7, 1986 by Penguin Books. 450 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Gay & Lesbian. Fiction

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Kerewin Holmes is a female (but quite unsexed) New Zealand hermit painter (she made what she needs to live by winning the lottery) whose self-sufficient, vaguely mystical rhythms of life are broken into when she discovers a small boy, Simon, on the beach near her hut, apparently having survived a...

Oct 21 1985 | Read Full Review of The Bone People: A Novel

Red Room

The story centers around Kerewin, a wealthy artist estranged from her family and living alone in a tower in Moerangi, Joe Gillayley, widower and foster father of Simon Peter Gillayley, a young boy found at the age of 3 washed up on a nearby beach and a devil of a young man who can't, or won't, sp...

Dec 20 2011 | Read Full Review of The Bone People: A Novel


Keri Hulme recalls the events of quarter of a century ago for the Scoop Review of Books:.

Feb 17 2009 | Read Full Review of The Bone People: A Novel

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