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Literature / The Bone People

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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 first New Zealand novel ever to win the Booker Prize (Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries became the second). 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. Hulme spent many years promising a follow-up novel; unfortunately, it was not to be, as she died in 2021.

Tropes in this novel:

  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Cynicism Catalyst: Joe's backstory. His wife and son died, which supposedly justifies his abusive behaviour.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kerewin after becoming friends with Joe and Simon.
  • Died Happily Ever After: One possible interpretation of the ending.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Pædo Hunt: Binny Daniels.
  • Redemption Quest: Joe goes on one after nearly killing Simon.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Kerewin's dialogue is like this at times.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: 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.
  • The Voiceless: Simon.