Some books pass through the landscape of your mind like clouds snagged on the branches of hillside trees.
Some books swirl around in the mind’s memory.
Some books haunt you, demanding to be picked up and read, and over the last few weeks I have been haunted by The Bone People by Keri Hulme.
First published in 1985, it was the Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies of its time, causing controversy with its erratic punctuation and strange use of words. But how can ‘seabluegreen eyes’ be anything other than right and perfect to describe what she wanted us to see? The flashing opal eyes of a strange boy.
And the cover. Robert Mason. I loved his work when I was at college, him, Ann Howeson, Sue Coe, Alan Alder, Liz Pyle. In these days art editors had more sway than the marketing department and there were editors at Pan, Picador, Virago and Penguin who made the covers sing. I wish I could remember their names.
So big in its day, I wonder, do people read it now?
The copy I have now is not the original from 27 years ago. For some reason this book has wanderlust. Loaned out but never returned. But usually at some point there has been a copy waiting quietly on my shelves. Until a few weeks ago when it started haunting me.
A tower by the sea, beautiful.
A strange child.
A haunting violence.
In the preface to the first edition Keri Hulme talks of how communication with her editors was difficult.
” I live 500 miles away, don’t have a telephone, and receive only intermittent mail delivery- so consensus on small point of punctuation never was reached. I like the diversity.”
So did I . Her words came to my heart and mind in the way that The Clash had come to my ears as I grew away from home and into my own skin. I loved it.
Now, one of the benefits of age, forgetting. I cannot remember the story. So now I am reading again, revisiting the tower by the sea that I longed for when first I read it. A tower by the sea to work and paint in, with a library. Rock pools to walk by to watch away the dust of living. I thought to just take a look before moving on to something else. An hour later I am lost to a land on the other side of the world.
And I have to climb the stairs to paint in my house by the sea and later wander the beach and look in the rock pools and wonder how it is that books can shape our lives so much.