The Bone People by Keri Hulme- thoughts and a tip

Here’s a classic New Zealand book with a great back story. An unpublished kiwi writer, Keri Hulme took 12 years to write this only to be rejected by all the publishers she could find. One of the rejections made me laugh:

Undoubtedly Miss Hulme can write but unfortunately we don’t understand what she is writing about.

Hulme persevered and eventually got picked up by the tiny publisher, Spiral, which led to an initial print run of 2,000 books. These sold out, more were printed, the book got noticed and she went on to win the prestigious Booker Prize in 1985.

I read this more than 10 years ago but while studying New Zealand history this month, felt like another go at it. I loved it first time round, this time around still thoroughly enjoyed it but perhaps loved it slightly less. I think this time I was more disturbed by the violence and less impressed by the magical realism which makes an appearance near the end.

People have described the book as a love story…and it is that but it’s so full of anger, separation, isolation, loss and brutality that the love part barely makes it through. For all that, no book I’ve ever read conjures up New Zealand better than this one. It evokes the sights and sounds of the south island of New Zealand in an almost uncanny way. The writing is both raw and poetic. The Bone People is not an easy read, but it is a very rewarding one.

TIP: I read this guessing the fairly frequent Māori language only to discover a glossary of Māori language at the end. I did enjoy reading the Māori though (it’s a beautiful language) and think that not knowing all the Māori added a certain mystical flavour to the book but yeah… probably better to use the glossary or at least know it’s there!

The book isn’t on kindle (yet?) so you’ll need to get a copy from the book depository, or if you’re in Hong Kong you can borrow mine!

8 thoughts on “The Bone People by Keri Hulme- thoughts and a tip

  1. I love this one too Jeremy. I read it when I was a teenager and Keri taught me that unconventional writing can still be poetic and beautiful. So glad you like the Maori language me too 😁 You are right this book is quintessential NZ


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