Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
Published in 1985, The Bone People by Keri Hulme won the Man Booker Prize in the same year after over a decade of being turned down by publishers. Addressing themes of isolation, violence and love, Hulme’s first – and only – novel beautifully captures the relationship between three very unlikely people. Kerewin is a middle-aged, part Maori woman who has built herself a fortress-like tower away from town. A painter who no longer paints, she whiles away her days in solitude, choosing to live a life of little means. Simon is a young boy of unknown European heritage. After losing his parents in a shipwreck off the New Zealand coast, he is taken in by a Maori man, Joe, who subsequently loses his wife and biological child. Falling into a pit of drink and despair, Joe often lashes out against Simon who is a mute and lonely child. What ensues is a heartbreaking, but also uplifting, tale of love in the darkest of places.
What I find most striking about The Bone People is the way Hulme writes in a lyrical – often disjointed – style, mixing Maori mythology with dreams and internal monologues. By pushing the boundaries of what a novel stereotypically is – like many writers, such as Eimear McBride, have done since Hulme – the reader is forced to confront thoughts and emotions that are often quite uncomfortable and difficult to express coherently. As each of these characters try to navigate how to love and be loved through some shockingly violent events, Hulme has a way of blurring the boundaries between right and wrong. She forces the reader to relate to these characters with all of their flaws that, at times, can seem so irredeemable when, in fact, nothing in The Bone People is past the point of redemption and that’s what makes it such a beautiful read.
Keri Hulme is a New Zealand writer who has only written one novel, The Bone People, which won the Man Booker Prize. She was the first New Zealander to win the Booker.