Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bone People

The Bone People by Keri Hulme is difficult; this isn't a bad thing, but it does make for a long reading.  It has some very beautiful, lyrical prose, the kind of language that, if you're a reader, you just fall in love with and, if you're a writer, you're quite envious of.  And Hulme writes without a care in the world for plot but with characters so interesting it doesn't matter.  And anyway, plot is so overrated.

So what's the problem? Well. Nothing, exactly, but I wasn't prepared for this.  The language, so lovely at times, is also somewhat foreign - the story uses a lot of Maori words and, though the words are found in the appendix in the back of the book, it can get tedious looking up ten words every other page and it is a surefire way to throw me out of the story.  I'm not actually complaining about languages I don't know or locales that are exotic to my Midwestern eyes (the story is set in New Zealand) because what I love about fiction, and books in general, is learning something new about the world. There are times too when, regardless of the language used, the meaning is conveyed.  Even when it isn't, sometimes I don't look up the words until later because I don't want to be taken out of the story, not even for a second.

The language isn't the only difficult thing about The Bone People though.  The style Hulme's chose actually reminds me a lot of Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and, anybody can tell you, that's a difficult book to get through.  And it's one of my favorites.  Though TBP doesn't experiment as far as Dhalgren did, there are numerous breaks and asides and centered text-thoughts from one of the three main characters: Kerewin, Joe, or Simon. 

As I remember Dhalgren didn't shift points-of-view, except from first to third occasionally, but TBP shifts between the aforementioned three main characters and does so in the span of a sentence without any break and there are other times when the book is third person omniscient.  This makes it difficult to grasp who's telling the story and, with the difficulty of the language, I sometimes find myself rereading pages a couple of times or more.

Before you start thinking I'm getting down on the book, I want you to know I'm not.  Again, this is an extremely compelling novel about a mysterious non-speaking child washing up to shore and the two people who end up caring for him. Kerewin is a tough, wild woman living in a tower and Joe is well-meaning, if incredibly flawed, drunkard. It's just that I didn't expect a difficult reading: as I said, I was completely unprepared.  TBP is decently sized too, about 600 pages, and I'm a little over halfway through. I'm fairly certain I'll be finished by the end of next week, but if I'm not, that's okay too.  These are characters worth caring about and worth taking the time to figure it out. A difficult read is sometimes the most rewarding.

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