THE BONE PEOPLE is a love story. It begins when a mute six-year-old, full of blasting hurt and strange charm, wanders off the beach and into a home of a despairing artist. Kerewin has given up everything but drinking, thinking and fishing, but the arrival of the boy Simon and, later on, of his Maori foster-father Joe, drags all three into the gyre of possibilities. Cruel, funny, ardent and beautiful, THE BONE PEOPLE is a powerful and visionary New Zealand fable.
It’d been a while since I’d read a book for my Around the World challenge and so I decided that I’d pick New Zealand next as I saw mentions of this book online due to the fact that the author is Aro-Ace. She’s also part Maori and both of these aspects of her identity are represented in the novel. The main character, Kerewin, is asexual and part Maori (she may also be Aromantic but I don’t remember if it’s ever explicitly stated) and there are plenty of other Maori characters, who also speak Maori to each other. There’s a small glossary at the back of the book to explain all the terms used, and I felt it really helped with immersion into the novel and the setting.
The synopsis describes this as a love story, but to me it’s more a journey of healing. At the start of the novel all three characters are rather broken. Kerewin spends most of her time drinking, Simon is mute and acts out a lot while Joe beats Simon as he doesn’t know how else to control him. Kerewin and Simon bond and he behaves really well with her as she learns how to communicate with him and recognises that his behaviour is due to frustration at not being understood. The way Simon is written, it’s highly likely he is autistic and I really appreciated the fact that Kerewin just accepts this as how he is and works to ensure they can communicate.
As the novel progresses, they slowly get to know each other and start to heal both mentally and physically due to the influences on each other. This is a very slow book, focusing on the journey made by each of the three characters and on the relationship between the three of them. As this is the central focus of the story, I won’t say too much on the characters or the plot, suffice to say that it was an enchanting journey and I didn’t want to put it down as I kept wanting to find out what happens to them.
The settings described in the novel are fantastic, with evocative imagery and lots of attention given to the biology of the locations allowing you a very clear mental image of what the various settings are like. My favourite setting was that of Kerewin’s tower, partially due to the fact that I always wished I could have a tower when I was younger.
This novel won the Man Booker prize in 1985 and is also an excellent novel focusing on New Zealand which I would highly recommend. It’s ideal if you’re also doing a read around the world challenge, and I also recommend it to those who not only want to see representations of asexual characters but also want to support an author who is asexual and aromantic.