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Fickle Muses an online journal of myth and legend


Review of Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People”
By Leslie Fox

One of my favorite books is Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People,” a beautifully written journey through the pain and violence of child abuse brought about, in part, by the legacy of colonization, and into the possibility and hope of cultural healing; a raw and playfully postmodern rendering through the disparate voices of the main characters, poetry and Maori myth.

Kerewin, the main protagonist, is a delightful curmudgeon, living in a tower on the beach, dragged slowly out of her shell by the light-fingered, mute boy, Simon. Joe, a likable, yet grieving alcoholic, takes in the troubled castaway. The adults become fast friends and drinking buddies; their time together inextricably linked to their fondness of the silent boy. Kerewin, Joe and Simon bond in a way most families only wish they could. The three misfits find strength in being together, but it is not enough to fight off the fear and violence brought on by loss of family, alienation from Maori traditions and culture, and the assimilation into Pakeah ways. When Kerewin discovers that Joe is beating Simon, she struggles with the idea of getting involved, resorts to her reclusive lifestyle and in a fit of anger gives Joe the go ahead to beat the kid’s brains in. Later, when Simon lies in a coma from Joe’s drunken thrashing she realizes the culpability of her inaction.

Hulme, of mixed European and Maori decent like her main character, attempts to create a world in New Zealand where both cultures can live together and find healing by a mix of ceremony and magic. This is a powerful tale of transformation, forgiveness and love.