Friday, March 28, 2008

Review: The Bone People

The latest of the Booker Prize winners that I've read is The Bone People by Keri Hulme. It is a difficult book about identity, love, and belonging. Hume tells the story of three tough-as-nails characters: Kerewin, an isolated artist who can no longer paint; Joe, a Maori workman struggling to raise his adopted son alone; and Simon, the mute little boy Joe found washed up on the seashore.

The style is difficult because the point of view switches around among the three main characters without warning; Hulme uses Joycean made-up words as well as Maori words; and it is hard to tell when the adults are speaking their own words or thinking out loud what they think the mute little Simon is trying to communicate.

The story is difficult because of the child abuse at the center of the plot. The ambivalence with which Hulme treats the topic makes the story incredibly interesting, but absolutely distressing.

The characters are difficult because none of them are likable. Simon is sympathetic, for sure. But even he has his moments of maliciousness, although these are less convincing than Hulme may have intended. Joe, on the other hand, does not deserve the sympathy Hulme seems to want the reader to give him. Yes, he gets his comeuppance in the end, but it does not seem sufficient punishment. His role is key to the story because he is the hinge between Simon and Kerewin, but the ultimate resolution seems a little unrealistic, given the prior conflict.

Kerwin is particularly prickly and seething with anger. She is quick to lash out verbally, and if angry enough or drunk enough, physically. She has cut herself off from her family and her community, preferring to live in an isolated tower by the ocean. She has even isolated herself from her own sex, considering herself to be a third gender – a “neuter.” But Kerwin’s story makes the book worth reading. She is one of the most complex and intriguing characters in contemporary literature.


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

List: The Man Booker Prize

The Booker Prize is awarded each year for a "full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland . . . . The novel must be an original work in English (not a translation) and must not be self-published."

If anyone else working on this list would like me to post a link to your progress report(s), please leave a comment with a link and I will add it below.

Here is the list, with those I have finished reading in red; those on my TBR shelf in blue:

1969: Percy Howard Newby, Something to Answer For

1970: Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member

1971: V.S. Naipaul, In a Free State

1972: John Berger, G (reviewed here)

1973: James Gordon Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur

1974: Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist, and Stanley Middleton, Holiday

1975: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust

1976: David Storey, Saville

1977: Paul Scott, Staying On

1978: Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea (reviewed here)

1979: Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore

1980: William Golding, Rites of Passage

1981: Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children (reviewed here)

1982: Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List

1983: J. M. Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K(reviewed here)

1984: Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac

1985: Keri Hulme, The Bone People(reviewed here)

1986: Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils

1987: Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

1988: Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda

1989: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

1990: A.S. Byatt, Possession

1991: Ben Okri, The Famished Road

1992: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, and Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger

1993: Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

1994: James Kelman, How Late it Was, How Late

1995: Pat Barker, The Ghost Road

1996: Graham Swift, Last Orders

1997: Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

1998: Ian McEwan, Amsterdam

1999: J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

2000: Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

2001: Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang

2002: Yann Martel, Life of Pi

2003: DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little

2004: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty

2005: John Banville, The Sea (reviewed here)

2006: Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

2007: Anne Enright, The Gathering

2008: Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger

2009: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (reviewed here)

2010: Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (reviewed here)

2011: Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending


Last updated on June 24, 2012.


Farm Lane Books
Fresh Ink Books
Hotch Pot Cafe

If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews and I will add them here)

Wonderful Toy: Follow Up

The What’s Next? is even more fun than I thought. I emailed them yesterday when I couldn't find a list of Sir Arther Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books. The gal emailed me back this morning to say she had added the list herself and if there were any other series missing, to let them know and they would try to add them. Interactive fun!

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