My great, if severely belated, discovery this year was the New Zealand writer Keri Hulme’s The Bone People — it was first published in 1985 and won the Booker Prize that same year, so I’m very behind! I was immediately snared by the rich, uncompromising language that flips effortlessly between New Zealand slang, untranslated phrases in Maori, and deeply poetic high-art prose. But it is the story itself — a perverse kind of love story between a burnt-out, asexual artist, a well-intentioned but physically abusive widower, and the mysterious, mute boy he has adopted — that makes The Bone People one of the most ethically challenging and emotionally complex books I have ever read. The occasional foray into vaguely New Age spirituality notwithstanding, I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is interested in literature that refuses to trade in the market of easy answers.
One of my year’s other reading pleasures was provided by Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation — another book with no time for the comfort of cliché. While much of the book is a wonderfully unforgiving portrait of marital crisis, what interested me particularly was her examination of the female experience of work — and specifically of writing — after parenthood, along with the unwillingness of our culture to confront or even acknowledge the complexity of this experience.
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