Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Terri's Review - The Bone People

The Bone People has been on my shelf for years and I've never had enough curiosity to pick it up. I read it for a book group this month, though, and I'm really glad I waited until now to read it. I'm a better reader these days, more willing to suspend my need for rigid writing styles, more eager to explore stories of other cultures and better able to appreciate the poetry of language, which Hulme does so stunningly well in this book.

It was a tough read, though, for the subject matter. Child abuse, graphically rendered, makes for nightmares and soul sickness for a few days. But it isn't gratuitous violence, it is central to the story of the broken lives of (at least) three individuals.

The story takes place in New Zealand, in the small town of Whangaroa. Keriwen Holmes, part Maori and part European, is a strong, fiercely independent woman who builds herself a tower home with a spiral staircase rising through the center. An unexpected "guest" surprises her one day, a young mute boy named Simon, who comes with a label explaining his disability. He also comes with a foster father (Joe) and a load of complications, including vandalism, thievery, physical violence and a mysterious past.

Hulme's writing style is an interesting mix of stream of consciousness and poetic narrative.
...dear soul, imagine if you could pass all memories, but selectively...keep the sweet things, the first flows of joy at colour and shape and sound (chime of tuis, lichen at Moerangi, rich cadmium yellow on black and red rock; the ratpad ticker of the clock that beat time time time to my guitar; rainbows and storm clouds and dragons of the sunset, and mists set in motion by the breathing of the sea....) - page 289
Hulme does a great job of making a parallel between the destruction of people's lives and souls and the destruction of culture (Maori) and environment, not only causally, but metaphorically. That the three main characters had to practically disintegrate down to the bone to heal and transform is, I think, what is likely to be required of Mother Earth.

I am still struggling with the ending. No spoilers - but could this be a dream sequence? It was just too tidy after the chaos of the rest of the story.

I feel like I've experienced this book rather than just reading it. Hulme is a brilliant writer. (4/5)


  1. Wonderful, wonderful review! Now I will look closer at my copy. Thanks!

  2. I was blown away by this story-absolutely loved it. I read it so long ago that I don't remember the specifics of the ending I'm afraid. Perhaps it's time to read it again. Glad you liked it and thanks for reviewing it and bringing it to everyone's attention.

  3. I finish books.
    It's an ingrained thing, it nags at me if I start one and don't finish it. But I couldn't make it through The Bone People. Maybe I'd just had worthy-but-dull Booker nominee fatigue. In all good conscience I could not recommend this book to anyone not serving a life term in solitary confinement.