I couldn’t start this novel immediately. I put it down twice, due to the
language,but on the third try, I was spending as much time as possible
to finish it!
Yes, the language is different from other novels, but once I understood the
rhythm,I went with the flow.
The novel is set in New Zealand. Three damaged humans form a family. There are
some portions that are hard to read, such as when Joe beats Simon and
when Joe and Kerewin would drink so much to become blottos, but it’s not all
dreary and hopeless.
For some members in my book group, the beatings were just too much for them
and set them against Joe. However, they all agreed that the writing was unique
and they enjoyed reading the flow of the language.
The novel is so multi-layered, that some book club members mentioned events
that I completely missed and visa-versa. This is one novel I need to re-read.
Kerewin and Joe have mixed blood: Maori and European. But, they both identify
themselves more as Maori. But, they have the bad habits of drinking too much,
like other people who have been conquered by Europeans.
Kerewin is very educated but doesn’t act snobby about it. She makes all sorts
of literary and historical allusions that sometimes when over my head and most
certainly over Joe’s head, who finished high school and never really left
Kerewin moved into the town, after winning the lottery. She built a home on the
beach: “… to build a hole or a tower; a hole, because she was fond of
hobbits, or a tower – well, a tower for many reasons, but chiefly
because she liked spirals stairways …”
One day, the town terror and Joe’s “adopted” son, Simon comes and doesn’t
want to leave. He was found as a small child and is different from everyone
in town with his blond hair and green eyes. He is also mute.
Despite his age, Simon thinks a lot. When Kerewin wants to touch his hands,
he flinches. Simon believes, “… hands are sacred things. Touch is personal,
fingers of love, feelers of blind eyes, tongues of those who can’t
Eventually, Joe goes to a remote town to try to cleanse his soul. He meets
a kaumatua (wise man) who says he had been waiting all his life for Joe to
pass on Maori knowledge. The wise man says, “..An island has eroded into
the sea. An island has eroded in silent pain since my boyhood, and reefs
have become islands. Yet the old people used to say, people pass away,
but not the land. It remains forever.
Maybe that is so. The land changes. The land continues. The sea changes.
The sea remains.”
This passage resonates so much with me, since I also live in a state that
loses so much land to erosion every day. And, also water surrounds me,
although it’s not the sea, but a river, a lake, and bayous.
Make sure to find the glossary in the back of the book to follow the Maori
phrases. If a phrase has already been defined in another part of the book,
Hulme doesn’t redefine. You need to look for it again.
And, also, have your print or electronic dictionary on hand. Hulme uses
a lot of big words through Kerewin.
Plus, you need to be in the right mood to read this novel. If you can’t
read it on the first try, no worries. No one in the book group was able
to do it either.