books, Reading, Short Stories, Women Writers

“Te Kaihau/The Windeater” by Keri Hulme

“…[A]s for us passing on our knowledge, hah! We rarely learn from the past or the present, and what we pass on for future humanity is a mere jumble of momentarily true facts, and odd snippets of surprised self-discoveries. That’s not knowledge…”

In the late 1970s and 80s, Keri Hulme fought her way onto the literary stage, working as a writer in residence and publishing short stories in relative anonymity. In 1985 her first and only novel, “The Bone People”, stunned by winning the Booker Prize, making Hulme the first New Zealander to win.

wind_001__13901.1399603943.1280.1280Hulme’s writing style is unadorned, unafraid, and unmistakably her own. Having thoroughly enjoyed “The Bone People” years ago, I was eager to include another of her works in the Year of Reading Women. “The Windeater” was Hulme’s second published work and first collection of short stories. Her stories are striking in their uniqueness, in their variety of voice and subject and even form. One will be written in verse, while another is laid out with set direction in the margins, and still others are traditional in their form if not their content. Hulme’s writing is almost expressionist; snippets of realistic imagery are woven together to create an unfamiliar tapestry.

Her point of view is well worth the effort her stories demand. As a self-described asexual, as a feminist, and as a minority (Hulme is part Maori), her voice is one rarely heard and one finely honed and full of strength and beauty.

“I remember the words and I remember the sting, and I still hate all that shit, men being tapu, and women being noa. Don’t eat here; don’t put your head there. Don’t hang your clothes higher than the men’s; never get up and talk on the marae. ‘Our women don’t talk out front,’ you said. ‘Arawa women speak only from behind their men.’ And you wonder why I went city?”

A few of the stories in this collection were nearly inscrutable, though I am uncertain if the limitations were the author’s or my own. Many of her stories did resonate, however, and for these I was grateful for another chance to listen to Hulme’s thoughts, to peer at the world through her eyes. Hulme’s bibliography goes oddly quiet for nearly two decades, until the publication of “Stonefish” in 2004. I can’t help but wonder how her voice faired those years of silence.

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