I was drawn to this book both because it is a Booker Prize winner and because it is set in New Zealand. I was charmed by the author in her introductory comment about “standards in a non-standard book.” In it, she reports that “consensus on small points of punctuation never was reached” and that she likes “oddities.”
The book is certainly an oddity. Though it’s over 500 pages, it can be summarized pretty quickly. 3 unlikely people come together because of unlikely circumstances and break apart because of predictable and unfortunate ones, and then find their way back to each other.
These three characters all have their secrets that inform who they’ve become and, to Hulme’s credit, she does not feel the need to explain them away or to become too psychological.
The various settings, especially Kerewin’s tower, are evocative and purposeful. The fading Maori culture is an ever present shadow hanging over both the place and the people.
And Hulme’s right about the oddities. They are diverse, and they are interesting. She’s ignored some classic conventions and created a new kind of language, an appropriate move for this particular story as language is one of its regular motifs. I wish she’d written more than just one novel.