Keri Hulme on Narrative Technique

Keri Hulme and Laurelyn Douglas '91

From a telephone interview with Keri Hulme conducted by Laurelyn Douglas '91.

LD: What about James Joyce? The stream-of-conscious narrative that he's known by seems to be similar to the one that you employ; it appears to be an adaptation of that sort of style -- yet your content, of course, is quite different; because of what Kerewin chooses to do and how she rejects the idea of a solitary artist it seems to refute Joyce thematically even as it borrows stylistically from him.

KH: Yes, I'm interested in that comment, because other people have made it too. I thought it was something that I had invented and sort of discovered myself, which all goes to show the arrogance of people. I have a theory about how you engage readers' attention, and it's basically as a result of the reading I've done and the things that work for me. And I find that there's a sort of a way of not being completely straightforward with what you're writing but using emotionally loaded material that will grab people. And the way that I play with words and bend them slightly -- or just outright mutilate them -- tends towards to work in that context. Don't incidentally expect literary theory from me. I'm very good on fishing recipies but not particularly on the other.

LD: That's perfectly fine. One of the things that also interested me is how, as you said, you try to grasp things that are in people's minds and the ways they work. And in The Bone People, there's a hugh emphasis on dreams and their meanings and their interpretations. Now, many of the symbols in your book seem to find a resolution -- they're tied up in some way, though not necessarily as a neat little package. But they come together with some sort of resolution. But one of the dreams, the one that Kerewin had, of the dream vampires -- it's really an interesting sequence because it's not at all clear as to what is going on or why. Is that how she gets the two scars on her neck, which never really seem to be explained?

KH: Well, you are sort of, but you'd have to be aware of the effects of nervous ecxzema to understand that little one. That's a curious skin disease that leaves creases where it shouldn't. My using that particular sequence and fashioning that particular dream was simply to have -- well, one of Kerewin's fears is becoming deeply involved with anybody, because she doesn't trust people. And she's already said this aloud to herself, prior to having that dream at Moriangi, but it's now as it were permeated her subconscious and is coming up and becoming extremely real to her. [Dreams Bring Forth Reality]. That becoming involved with these two rather strange people, Joe and his son, is dangerous, is going to -- as she would perceive it -- threaten her as a person.

LD: So you'd see that as them leeching onter her, sucking her dry, a nightmarish vision of what human relations and of what she's facingŠ

KH: She has a rather nightmarish view of human relations, let's face it. Partly because she has for one reason or another become ruinously detached from what is her natural element, which would be her family group, [her fama]. So yes, that's why it floated in.

Incidentally, I don't like things on hundred percent neat. I like things to be a bit messy; therefore, there will be threads left dangling all over the place.

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Last Modified: 15 March, 2002