Random House - $29.99
An enduring fascination with yeti, sasquatch and maero has inspired writer Emma Neale’s new tender and heartbreaking novel about a young man completely covered in thick hair who is found unconscious in a remote forest on the West Coast.
Who is he? What is he? Where has he come from? When he wakes up in Dunedin Hospital, he initially refuses to talk. It’s a big story and everyone wants a piece of the action: the doctors all want to run tests on him, the media all want to get his story, and the public all want to gawp and prod.
We learn that the young man is called Bu. He’s a wonderful creation. Gentle, vulnerable and innocent, Bu quickly captures the reader's heart as he enters the wider and threatening world.
Neale says the experience of social exile is the real heart of ‘Fosterling’ and Bu allows her to explore the wider, psychological themes of what makes us human and how physical appearance can determine our place in society.
"I've always been fascinated by myths and legends of the yeti, sasquatch and maero, and wanted to draw on the lure and power of these stories, exploring them in a way that brought them into a contemporary, urban environment and that rendered them credible even to a sceptical reader," she explains.
"I wanted my central character to be vividly real, whether we believe in the yeti legend or not, and for his emotional landscape to be the main terrain we cover."
"Bu and the novel are a fusion of several, sometimes conflicting, concerns. How does a gentle version of masculinity fare in Western society? Are we more than savages under the skin, more than wolves in denim and leather? What are the dangerous compulsions a 'good story' can exert, if it's seized on by the media and told without empathy?"
Neale adds: "If we discovered that ancient fables about wild-men, or some kind of primate cousins, were based on scientific fact, how would we really treat the living, individual prodigy? What are the right lengths to go to, to protect a child from harm? How much can a parent do to shield any child from society's brutality? How are these questions complicated even further if the child is already damaged or disadvantaged?"
"None of the answers are straightforward. To reflect the complexity of life and character, I think a novel should be glancing, faceted, like the sea, even if a steady fishing line of plot is carefully lowered into it," she says.