Details: (c) Keri Hulme 1983; Pub 1986 Picador; ISBN 0-330-29610-8
Verdict: The bone people is incredibly original, extraordinarily well-written, and very emotionally difficult.
Reasons for reading it / how it came into my hands: Present from rysmiel.
rysmiel warned me that The bone people is quite harrowing, and I was glad of this warning. It involves the reader with its characters in a way I've never seen done anywhere else. The narrative switches between first person viewpoints for the three main characters, but the way it does first person is by directly presenting the characters' internal monologues, without any (apparent) editing into a narrative. It's also in the present tense, but it creates an immediacy which goes way beyond that obvious device. I really did feel as if I was in the characters' heads, almost in the style of Being John Malkovich.
The trouble is that Joe Gillayley is very much not the sort of person I want to read about, much less relate to, much less actually feel as if I know what it's like to be him. It says a lot for the quality of the writing in The bone people that I kept reading in spite of this. Not only did I continue reading, I did find myself sympathizing with Joe even though some of his actions are about as morally repugnant as it's possible to be. Simon P's viewpoint is equally distressing, though in an entirely different way. But all three of them are just so incredibly well portrayed as people that the sheer nastiness of some parts of the book are justified.
There are other things that work well about The bone people. The language is rather beautiful, and there's an impressive sense of atmosphere and the background of rural New Zealand, the intersection between Maori and European culture and so on, are very nicely portrayed. The plot rests mainly on character and relationship development, but it's extremely accomplished and the pace at which information is revealed is absolutely exquisite. It's particularly impressive how little of the detail of Kere's past is made explicit, even though much of the narrative is her actual inner voice. The hints and fragments are more powerful in their own way, though.
The blurb, together with the author's note at the beginning where she boasts about being above trivial concerns like editing set up rather negative explanations of the book. I thought it was going to be all fluffy-wuffy and irritating. This turned out to be miles from the case; the book is genuinely moving, I would almost say spiritual, unlike so many which try to fake that kind of thing out of misplaced romanticism.
Easily one of the most impressive things I've read this year, and very unlike anything else. Wow.