1980s Booker Prize Recommended books

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985. It is set on the South Island of New Zealand, and centres around three characters. The first, Kerewin, is a painter, who having won the lottery builds herself a tower by the sea and lives as a virtual recluse. One day, Simon, a young, mute boy turns up at her tower and they begin a strange friendship. Simon’s foster father, Joe, is then drawn towards Kerewin and the three characters begin to discover secrets lurking in each of their pasts.

The book deals with many difficult issues, but domestic violence is the most dominant. Joe beats his foster son, and the delicate line between punishment and cruelty if seen to be very hazy at times. The characters are all really well developed, deeply flawed and incredibly interesting!

The book is very well written, and the writing is almost poetic at times, but at other times it was a ‘stream of conciousness’ and, particularly in the beginning, was very confusing. I fluctuated between loving it, and being irritated by it!

The book was filled with Maori myths and symbolism, some of which went over my head. I think that this book is one which needs to be read several times, in order to appreicate it’s many layers. In many ways it is very similar to Beloved – difficult to understand at first, complex, moving and full of symbolism.

I’m not sure I’d ever recommend this book to anyone, but I’m glad that I read it.

9 replies on “The Bone People – Keri Hulme”

I’ve never read this book, but I have found that books like this seem to get better with multiple readings. They are subtle, and sometimes you pick things up you missed in the first read, because they are a bit convoluted. Great review!

I havent read this book but then I always do better with the long and short listed books than I ever do with the winner which is strange but true. One day I will read all the Man Booker Winners, its just the Pulitzer Prize Winners seem so much better well from the ones I have read that have won each award.

Simon – I agree the Pulitzers seem to be of a higher standard on average than the Bookers. I haven’t read a bad Pulitzer yet, but some of the Bookers are great too.

Great review of this book, Jackie! I really enjoyed this book when I read it a couple of years ago…you are right that it is a different sort of book, but I loved Hulme’s writing and ultimately I think I rated it pretty high.

This book has been recommended to me countless times, but for some reason it intimidates me a bit. Your comparison to Beloved sold me, though…I adored Beloved.

If I had to pick between Bookers and Pulitzers I’d go with Pulitzers too. My favourite book ever (Middlesex) is a Pulitzer winner, after all.

Nymeth – This book is quite intimidating really, but if you loved Beloved then I think you’ll enjoy this one.

PS. I loved Middlesex too!

I find the Pulitzer tends to value social themes over literary quality, but agree that the Booker is uneven. I read this years ago, and really appreciated learning about the Maori culture, and reading about the complicated, flawed, all too human characters.

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