Literature / The Bone People

The Bone People by Keri Hulme (or to use the author's preferred capitalisation, the bone people) is a literary novel that was published by a small press in 1984 and famously went on to become the only New Zealand novel ever to win the Booker Prize. It is the story of a painter, Kerewin Holmes who is estranged from her family and lives a reclusive life until she finds a young mute, mystical boy called Simon Peter has broken into her home. A friendship develops between Kerewin, Simon and Simon's adoptive father Joe Gillaley. Just as Kerewin is coming out of her shell and a new family seems to be being formed, Kerewin realises someone has been horribly physically abusing Simon and things get nasty.

The Bone People is something of a joke in New Zealand as it is widely acknowledged as being a famous novel no one reads, because of its supposedly incomprehensible prose style. It is ultimately a worthwhile read to anyone who likes a challenge.

Keri Hulme is currently famous for having spent over twenty-five years promising that a follow-up novel is about to come out.

Tropes in this novel:

  • Abusive Parents Joe.
  • Asexual: Kerewin, in a suprisingly accurate portrayal. The author herself identifies as Asexual as well.
  • Author Avatar: Kerewin Holmes is a clear one for Keri Hulme. Kerewin is a reclusive artist with artist's block who lives in the South Island of New Zealand. Keri Hulme is a reclusive writer with writer's block who lives in the South Island.
  • The Alcoholic: Kerewin.
  • Big Fancy House: Kerewin lives in a tower.
  • Bilingual Bonus: the book is full of te reo Maori, only some of which is translated in the appendix.
  • Break the Cutie: Simon. By the end he's suffered permenant brain damage as a result of the abuse.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Joe's backstory. His wife and son died, which supposedly justifies his abusive behaviour.
  • The Danza: Kerewin Holmes for Keri Hulme. People even call her 'Kere' for short.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kerewin after becoming friends with Joe and Simon.
  • Easily Forgiven: Simon forgives Joe for beating him into a coma.
  • Food Porn: The author is clearly a foodie and New Zealand cuisine such as oysters and muttonbird feature prominently.
  • Hermit Guru: The old man Joe meets after his suicide attempt.
  • I Know Karate: Kerewin is an Aikido master.
  • Kuudere: Kerewin hates hugging and kissing and tends to be a loner. She does care about her estranged family deeply, though, and comes to care about Joe and Simon as well.
  • Magic Realism the book gets this way at the end. Maori spirituality is a big theme.
  • Mysterious Waif: Simon is a mute orphan who was literally washed in from the sea.
  • What Have I Done: Joe.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Simon's expensive rosary seems to be this, but subverted in it never comes to anything.
  • Pædo Hunt: Binny Daniels.
  • Reclusive Artist: Kerewin, at the start.
  • Redemption Quest: Joe goes on one after nearly killing Simon.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Kerewin's dialogue is like this at times.
  • The Voiceless: Simon.