Book Review

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

bone peopleBooker Prize Winner in 1985

I have mixed feelings about this book but I will get into that in a second. I also have to confess that because I hadn’t heard of the book before my sister gave it to me, I looked it up and read some short reviews on I found the reviews fascinating, especially after I read the book. There was one review that basically boiled down to the person saying, “I hated this book.” There were also people who felt kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing, and there were a few who actually liked it.

I don’t feel like I fit into any of those categories. As I said, I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed this book. I think it was beautifully written and engaging. I had hard time putting it down. The reason for my mixed feelings though has to do with the content of the story. Fair warning, spoilers coming.

The central plot of the story is about a woman, a man, and the man’s adopted son. At one point in the story, we learn that the boy is being beaten – severely beaten. As readers, we feel sorry for him because in addition to being beaten, we know he comes from a traumatic past and has some physical handicaps as a result of that past. The plot though, as they say, thickens because later in the novel we learn that his father is the one who has been beating him the whole time.

At that point, I honestly thought why doesn’t the woman just beat him to death (believe me, she is capable). So, a little boy is being beaten by his father and the other adults in the boy’s life know about it and do nothing about it. That isn’t actually the part that bothered me. What bothered me is that at the end of the novel, the boy is beaten so badly that he is hospitalized, and they don’t know if he’ll wake up. He does. And then after what I would consider a very short time, he goes back to live with the same people.

The same family that let him get beat every time his father was drunk gets him back. ⊲That right there is why I have mixed emotions about “liking” this story.

I like it because it is so well written, so the people who got hung up on the novel’s use of Maori words need to let that go. I didn’t find the author’s use of another language problematic at all.

I like it because it is set somewhere that I’ve never read about before and is about a culture I’ve never read about before.

I like the characters, even the father. They are wonderfully written.

What I can’t bring myself to like is a child being put back into such a harmful environment and the author makeing it seem like that’s a happy ending.

So, in the end, I don’t know. It is a great book, but can I say that I “like” a book with an ending like that?

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