Keri Hulme was the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize. She was also the first to win the prize with her debut novel, no small feat.
Hulme was born in Christchurch in 1947 and was the eldest of six children.
Hulme once described her younger self as a "very definite and determined child who inherently hate[d] assumed authority". She remembers herself as always being interested in writing and started writing at the age of twelve.
She started with poetry, and the short stories, she remembers rewriting Enid Blyton stories; giving them endings that she thought improved the story.
She dropped out of a law degree at the University of Canterbury after only four terms returning to tobacco picking, the job she worked at upon finishing high school. All of this time she continued to write.
Hulme worked many different jobs but decided to take up writing full time in 1972.
Her manuscript for "THE BONE PEOPLE" was submitted to a multitude of different publishers, but twelve years went by without interest. The book was finally published in 1984 going on to win the New Zealand Award for fiction in the same year, before winning the Booker in 1985.
Sadly this was the only book Hulme ever had published. She has two other novels but both were never finished before she died from dementia in 2021 at the age of 74.
Over time "THE BONE PEOPLE" has proved to be a very polarizing book, with people seeming to either love it or hate it. I absolutely loved it. Her writing reminds me a little of Tim Winton.
A synopsis -
In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes: part Maori, part European, asexual and aromantic, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family.
One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor—a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession.
As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality.
Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where indigenous and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge.
The main character is obviously Hulme herself. She has described herself as asexual and aromatic. Even the names are almost the same. The book can be brutal, but the relationship between the three main characters is poignant and at times beautiful. It also explores the sometimes violent relationship between the indigenous Maori people and the European colonizers.