I have never heard of The Bone People before this spring. Were it not for my university I still wouldn't know of its existence. But, Hulme's book was chosen (by whom, I'm not sure) for the incoming Freshmen summer reading book. The purpose is to have all incoming freshmen read a book in common. In the fall they will have a colloquium to discuss the book. And professors are invited to incorporate the book or relevant themes from it into the fall curriculum. I read last year's book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and loved it! So, I had high hopes for The Bone People.
I never got past the first fifty pages. To be honest, I cannot imagine why this book was chosen for college freshmen. Maybe I didn't give the book a fair chance. Maybe when I have a day that I can sit and really focus on getting into the story I will find it fascinating and worth reading. But, when I got the library email telling me to renew it for a second time and I realized that I had made no progress in the prior three weeks that it was not worth my time to renew it again. Off to the library it went.
The story takes place in New Zealand and revolves around an embittered reclusive woman, a young mute Maori, and his abusive father - or so I read on the back cover. But it is written in a highly unconventional style. I realize that this gives the book its literary merit and it is one reason why it won awards, but it is disconcerting to read. The same word might be spelled three different ways in the course of the story - which adds depth, according to Hulme - but which I find just annoying. Much of the story is told through the inner dialogue of the woman in a stream of consciousness style which is disjointing.
I will be curious to know how many students read this book. Will they honestly enjoy it? Or will the read it because some college letter told them they should/had to? Maybe I will post again in the future about The Bone People and wax poetic about the unsung litereary merit of Keri Hulme. But, I wouldn't hold your breath.