“I thought it was sort of hard to follow,” Dania said, sitting down into the couch with her dogeared copy of The Bone People.
“What, because she doesn’t use quotation marks for spoken dialogue?” Eleanor asked.
“Well, that’s part of it, obviously,” Dania said. “But it’s also, like, she changes who’s talking mid-sentence half the time. The book is super atmospheric –– Gwen, I bet you just loved it, right?”
Gwen smiled, shielding her grin with a contemplative hand. “We’ll get to my thoughts.”
“Sure,” Dania said. “It’s one of those books that’s all about the mood and the tone and stuff, not about what’s actually happening in the story. Like, does Kerewin actually build her tower from scratch at the beginning? Or is that, like, a metaphorical ‘building’ that happens?”
“I believe the implication is that she physically constructs it,” Gwen offered. “It’s within the realm of possibility for the character.”
“Is it?” Dania asked, with a glance aside. “She’s a moderately mysterious sea hermit, she doesn’t literally have magical powers.”
“I thought for a good chunk of the book that she did,” Gwen replied.
Eleanor shook her head. “I’m sorry. What?”
“I stand by it,” Gwen reiterated. “Something in the first quarter of the book led me to that. I kept trying to confirm it, but clearly nowhere in the dialogue are they going to say it explicitly. But I gathered that it was being implied.”
“Where was she implying that?” Eleanor asked. “I didn’t get that sense at all.”
“Something regarding the way she talked with Simon. Healed his wounds, had that medicine cabinet, lived alone in a tower. Who lives alone in a tower and doesn’t have magical powers?”
“She’s gotcha there,” Dania added, pointing to Gwen.
“I think y’all are smoking crack, but okay,” Eleanor said. “I don’t think Kerewin is supposed to have powers. She’s just a very adept cook and guitarist.”
“And painter,” Gwen added.
“Okay, great, so she’s a Renaissance woman, gotcha,” Dania said. “There’s still a ton about the book that’s sort of lost between being a modern-day story about this family unit, and a fable about a small mute thief.”
“But that’s what makes it so interesting!” Eleanor replied. “It’s right in that sweet spot between being a fable and being modern. So many of the tropes of, like, a ghost story or a fairy tale are there, but then you get these very specific and relatable characters to carry you through it. And you absolutely find out more about the characters than you do about their narrative.”
“I was bothered that we didn’t get to know more about Simon’s backstory,” Gwen said.
“Yeah, they set it up with the letters to the Earl, or whatever, but they never really do anything about it. Simon stays Simon –– or Haimona, everyone has multiple names.”
“Anglicized ones,” Eleanor added. “Everyone is Maori. There’s a bit of editorializing from Hulme about the use of names, Simon has four, by my count.”
“Which does make it somewhat difficult to follow, I’ll admit,” Gwen said, paging through the book again. “The rapid transitioning between points of view can work great –– the first time it shifted from Kerewin to Joe, I was totally on board. But there’s a chapter during that time that they spend together at the…lake? Ocean? They’re away, is the point.”
“When they’re away,” Gwen continued. “The middle section of the book. There are parts there where the dialogue starts to mix in with the exposition a little and it forces you to slow down.”
“I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” Eleanor said. “Dickens does the same thing. There’s so much detail to the world, so many excellent ways of wording everyday things. Let me find the section I really liked…”
“I won’t say that slowing down is inherently bad,” Gwen said. “But compared to the rest of the book moving as such a quick clip, it can be a touch of whiplash to suddenly be slowing down.”
“Have you ever read books by Gary Paulsen?” Eleanor asked, her eyes still scanning the pages of Hulme’s novel. “He wrote Hatchet, and The River, and Dogsong? Lots of YA novels for teen boys.”
“Can’t say I have.”
“He has this thing he does where an entire chapter can consist of just reading about a boy building a fire in the woods, and it’s riveting,” Eleanor said with a smile. “Because there’s not a step that’s left out: finding a place, finding dry wood, cutting the wood, making a pile, finding a rock, trying to get sparks from the rock; on and on and on, more details for days.”
“Sounds a little bit boring, not gonna lie,” Dania said.
“Well,” Eleanor said, pulling out of her nostalgic fog. “Maybe a little bit. But Hulme sort of does the same thing. The detail she brings…”
Eleanor held up the book, and read from Chapter 2: “Joe poured the beer. The head took half the glass…it settles down, a hundred thousand bubbles snapping out, cream diminishing to clear brown liquid.”
“It’s specific, sure,” Dania mused, as Eleanor turned another page.
“Smoke clouds grow and dwindle,” she read aloud. “The game continues, a leisurely vying of mental strength. And a reaching out from either side, a growing pleasure as the knowledge comes.”
At this, Eleanor cast a deserving eye towards Gwen. “This is someone I shall be able to call friend.”
Gwen laughed lightly. “I agree, she’s a fine writer.”
“It’s just so rich,” Eleanor said. “It’s like swimming in a pool of honey or something, it just pulls you into it.”
“If you decide to jump in and get stuck,” Dania commented.
“Well, yeah, Dania,” Eleanor added grimly. “If you choose to just dangle your feet into the story, it’s not gonna absorb you.”
“I was just waiting for the plot to kick in,” Dania said. She pulled her feet up onto the couch. “It’s all great set-up, but then people just kinda lay about, Simon keeps skipping out from school, Joe keeps being a bad dad. I have no idea what was happening in basically the entire final quarter of the book!”
“Yeah, it starts to get very abstract, I will admit that,” Eleanor said.
“I think I liked that part the most, though,” Gwen added.
Gwen glared at Dania, but continued. “It’s the only time since the very beginning that you hear about the characters in isolation, as opposed to as a group. It’s the clearest picture we get of everyone’s character, internally. It made me want to go back and re-read everything from the beginning again, picking up the nuances.”
“Are you going to?” Eleanor asked. “This is my third time re-reading it.”
“Probably,” Gwen said, blowing out a cheekful of non-committal air. “I have to make some headway on The Pile, you know? The books I’ve bought but haven’t read.”
“Word,” Eleanor agreed.
“Well, I, for one, like books with plot,” Dania said. “I don’t think I disliked it, but I’m not sure I’m gonna go re-read it.”
“It’s an acquired taste, sure.” Eleanor held the book closer. “I personally love Hulme. She’s just very entertaining to read, you feel like you’re getting a whole…meal from her books, you know? It’s filling, in a way.”
“It’s hard to phrase,” Eleanor sighed.
“I did have a question about it,” Gwen said, after a moment. “Did you think that Kerewin and Joe were going to get together at some point?”
“Yes, thank you!” Dania said, throwing her arms out. “I was waiting on it to happen, but no dice, Keri.”
“It’d be so cliché, though!” Eleanor groaned.
“That’s just it, I was rooting against them getting together,” Gwen clarified. “I was nervous for a lot of the book that they were going to. But the drama on the final act happened before any real romance could develop.”
“Yes, definitely,” Eleanor agreed.
“There’s definitely some romance there, though,” Dania said, leaning in. “Don’t try to tell me I just imagined that. Like, everything that goes down in that chess game is high-level flirting. And Joe visiting over and over to the tower?”
“I think all that proves that he cares about Kerewin quite a lot,” Eleanor said. “But not enough to wed, or bed, or anything like that.”
“Joe is also coming off the death of a former lover,” Gwen remembered. “There’s a deeper complexity to the relationship to both Simon and Kerewin because of that.”
“Eh, I think it’s romance,” Dania dismissed. “It’s left open to interpretation, right?”
Eleanor blushed. “There is one segment that’s a pretty big clue about it.” She picked up the book again, and turned to page 325; the only dogeared page in her copy.
“There’s nothing in my background to explain the way I am,” Eleanor read aloud. “But ever since I can remember, I’ve disliked close contact…charged contact, emotional contact, as well as any overtly sexual contact. I veer away from it, because it always feels like the other person is draining something out of me.”
Eleanor looked up. Gwen was following along in her copy of the novel, while Dania was staring up at the wall –– still listening, but distant. Gwen motioned for Eleanor to continue.
“I spent a considerable amount of time when I was, o, adolescent, wondering why I was different, whether there were other people like me. Why, when everyone else was fascinated by their developing sexual nature, I couldn’t give a damn. I’ve never been attracted to men. Or women. Or anything else. It’s difficult to explain, and no one has ever believed me when I have tried to explain, but while I have an apparently normal female body, I don’t have any sexual urge or appetite. I think I am a neuter.”
Eleanor felt a tear run down her cheek as she reached the final sentences –– she hadn’t felt the emotion creep up as close as it had. Dania was now watching, rapt.
“Maybe you have so much energy tied up in this, you have none left for sex,” Gwen read aloud, Joe’s response to Kerewin.
“So you think she’s asexual?” Dania asked.
“Keri Hulme is,” Eleanor revealed. “So it follows that Kerewin is.”
“Oh!” Gwen said, surprised. “That’s wonderful!”
“And today is the first day of Asexual Awareness Week,” Eleanor added. She involuntarily looked down to check that her heartbeat couldn’t be seen through her shirt.
“Do you just know that?” Dania said. But Gwen was grinning.
“Eleanor?” Gwen asked.
Gwen tried to phrase the question. “Are…is this your way of…”
Eleanor held the book close to her chest.
“Hulme said it better than I could,” she said. “All I had to do was read it.”
Happy Asexual Awareness Week, from your ace author. 💜