The Bone People

“It’s a slow haunting tune; melancholy, yet it embraces the listener, drawing one onward rather than down.
He remembers it in the months to come, playing it so often in his mind that when he next picks up a guitar, his fingers settle into the melody without him meaning them to.”

This passage occurs late in this novel but it is one which quite adequately explains how I felt about this New Zealand novel. For it is a bit of a meandering sort, humming its own, rather odd, rather magical, little tune.

We started off on an unsteady foot, The Bone People and I, we were tripping off in different directions, and I was all too ready to lay it back on the pile and pick up something a bit more readable. It opens with rather separate…. for want of a better term…. odds and ends. The first page, three different passages, of a ‘he’, another ‘he’, and a ‘she’. The next page was a rather abstract two paragraphs, which only make sense to me now after reading the whole book.

I puzzled my way through the first few pages. It was only with the appearance of the mute Simon, whom Kerewin discovers in her tower, that some interest began to stir:

“In the window, standing stiff and straight like some weird saint in a stained gold window, is a child. A thin shockheaded person, haloed in hair, shrouded in the dying sunlight.
The eyes are invisible. It is sling, immobile.
Kerewin stares, shocked and gawping and speechless.
The thunder sounds again, louder, and a cloud covers the last of the sunlight. The room goes very dark.”

Rather dramatic isn’t it? And it is quite a dramatic story, with three characters (besides Simon and Kerewin, there is Joe, Simon’s unofficial foster father) who are so filled with emotions, said and unsaid (the three of them think and feel so much, their internal dialogue is laid out, slightly offset and differentiated with indented paragraphs- sometimes I’m not entirely sure which character is doing the thinking). This book is all about the emotions. The storyline itself is actually a little thin, nothing very much happens for quite a bit of the book. A quick summary: Kerewin (who’s part Maori, part European), Joe (who’s Maori) and Simon (who’s background is unknown) start out as very isolated individuals, they come together, but something happens and they break apart, but knowing that they kind of need each other, they reach out for each other again.

The Bone People is about the relationship that develops  between these three, a rather convoluted, perhaps obsessive relationship. There is so much anger in this harsh landscape, and parts of the story were particularly disturbing and which made me put it down for a while and figure out if I really wanted to continue. I did. Their stories, their need for each other, tugged at the heartstrings. I felt for Simon, isolated from the rest of the kids, for Kerewin, who despite what she sometimes said and thought, and her hard exterior, was full of heart.

Was it worth the effort? The Bone People is a bit of a confusing read and can be cruel, but the three characters and the development of their relationships is well-written and moving.

This is my read for the New Zealand leg of the Reading the World Challenge. Just in time, I’ve finished all seven continents!

The Bone People – Keri Hulme
Borrowed from the library


  1. I’m glad you liked the book. I rather enjoyed Hulme’s writing style once I got into the book. Like you, I struggled through the first few pages. And I debated whether I wanted to continue the book at what I assume is the same place. It took a lot for me later in the book to empathize with one of the characters after the main conflict was revealed, though Hulme helped by emphasizing the importance of the relationships among the three. I thought the final three journeys of the characters was weaker than what I was expecting, but I did appreciate the book’s resolution. The book has definitely stayed with me (and I think it helped that I read it while I was in New Zealand).
    Congrats on finishing your Reading the World challenge this year! Incidentally, your recommendation of Terra Incognita allowed me to unofficially read the world this year, too.


    1. Ah to read a book that’s set in New Zealand when in that beautiful country. I’m lucky enough to have visited when I was a teenager (I had a New Zealander penpal who lived, and still lives, in Wellington), and hope to go back one day. It is quite a magical place, isn’t it?

      And I’m glad you got to read the world too!


      1. New Zealand was quite memorable. I really liked Wellington, and I loved the variety of landscapes on the North Island. I’d been wanting to see the country for almost ten years, and it lived up to expectations. Now I just have to see more of the South Island than Picton. Have you been to both islands? And did you get to see Te Papa when you were in Wellington?


  2. Congratulations on completing the Challenge. You’ve certainly read some intriguing books and I have really enjoyed reading your insightful reviews. I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite keep up with you!


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