Sunday, November 04, 2012

My Five-Star Bookshelf, Part Eleven

Keri Hulme, The Bone People

I read this novel in a course about popular literature and had no idea at the time that it was a prize-winning or important book. What I remember about my initial reading of this book was that it was dazzling, horrifying, and captivating.

The Bone People is the story of Kerewin, an artist who has isolated herself in a tower; Simon, a wild child with a mysterious past; and Joe, the man who is raising Simon despite troubled circumstances. The novel is about various kinds of love that persists despite brutal happenings. It is also a novel about the Maori and the power of myth, story, and language.

At the time I first read this novel, I knew almost nothing about post-colonial discourse or the resistant colonial writer. You don't need this knowledge to enjoy this novel. It is not an easy text to read; you will likely feel the pain these characters endure, and the ending will not necessarily bring resolution. But reading this novel may open our eyes to other ways of being, to other configurations of family, and to other ways of understanding the world.

An assignment I regularly ask my students to complete is an investigation of various literary prizes; I ask them to consider the value of such prizes in the configuration of the literary field, the reputation of the author (and his/her consequent Author Function), and the fortunes of the physical object of the book itself (that is, whether it sells better as a result of the award). The Bone People leaves me intrigued today with many ideas for academic writing; but here I want to convey how I much enjoyed this novel as an undergraduate. In giving me, a sheltered nineteen-year-old Canadian female, a larger, violent but magical view of life, this novel certainly changed my world.