The Bone People by Keri Hulmes is an original first novel that weaves together the lives of three very different people living in New Zealand. An eight-year-old mostly mute boy, his adoptive Maori father with a drinking problem, and a white reclusive female artist with a creative block. They are stripped to the bone. Leaving themselves bare and vulnerable. Coming together reluctantly, fated perhaps. Questioning the concept of what makes family.
It's a lighter stream-of-consciousness than say, Toni Morrison's works. As well as a much lighter allegory than say Life of Pi. Maori mythology weaves in and out throughout the tale. Along with those styles, the chapters are structured in such a fluid style that keeping track takes work. The first half is part of the weaving, whilst the second focuses on their individual journeys. Hulme's prose is poetic and possibly the pivotal reason I remained with it. I was glad I did. The ending chapters feel disconnected from the first and that's possibly my only real criticism. Even the Maori symbolism takes centre stage in a way that is less appealing than her subtle use in previous chapters. I feel that it removed us from the very human rawness of the characters' emotions.
Hulme does a fabulous job of creating a sense of isolation. Of place and soul. The rugged landscape of New Zealand's South Island coastline is a magnificent backdrop and symbol.
I found the child abuse difficult work to walk through. Yet, not as difficult as I would have thought. Perhaps it's the novel's other-worldliness, the child's maturity, the child as Christ symbol, the necessity to know about these occurrences, or Hulme's storytelling abilities. Troubling yes, but somehow it all made sense and was necessary to understand.
They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great.I didn't feel deeply for any of the characters, and yet, they are so well-developed, that I needed to know about them. They are too terribly flawed to connect with, but that is their purpose in this tale. This is a character-driven novel where just enough occurs to keep them tied to the real world of movement, but always playing second-fiddle.
Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.
It's an intense ride, one that I'm unsure whether to recommend. Possibly only to those who care for such intensity and mysticism. I am glad for reading it. It touched me and troubled me. Yet it was a lyrical journey that stayed with me for some time afterwards.