Kerewin Holmes is a female (but quite unsexed) New Zealand hermit painter (she made what she needs to live by winning the lottery) whose self-sufficient, vaguely mystical rhythms of life are broken into when she discovers a small boy, Simon, on the beach near her hut, apparently having survived a shipwreck. After nursing him back to health, Kerewin eventually relinguishes Simon (who seems like he can't--and certainly won't--speak) over to a foster father, a Maori man named Joe Gillayley; and though Joe loves Simon fiercely, he doesn't react well to Simon's frequently contrary and maddening behaviors--reactions which too often end up in brutal beatings (one is even nearly fatal). Kerewin tries to step in, threading the needle between her real affections for Simon and Joe both--a situation that novelist Hulme tries unsuccessfully to stretch over the length of nearly 500 pages, hoping it will become a plot. It never happens. Stylistically, it's a very homemade-feeling book, hippy-ish, filled with elaborate Maori references (a glossary in back is indispensable, too indispensable), inner thoughts, goopy lyricism, and torrents of inner thinking that are clumsy and unconvincing. In all, a slow slog through a good deal of self-congratulatory spiritual homeopathy, with only the smallest smidge of story thrown in. The book is the winner of this year's (Mobil Oil-sponsored) Pegasus Prize for Literature.