“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