Letters — Issue 78

NZB’s new look

Congratulations on the new look New Zealand Books with the iconic black cover. Well done also on the Creative New Zealand funding; it’s nice to see it going to something that also offers a critical eye on the associated arts and culture industry and nationalist agendas.

Mike Grimshaw
University of Canterbury

 

I read six other magazines on a regular basis, including the New Yorker. None of them gives me the glow of anticipation that arrives with New Zealand Books, which is consistently readable, responsible and provocative.

Ray Richards
Auckland

 

Knee-jerk

Michael Hulse’s review (NZB, December 2006) of Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s novel Shanghai Boy misses the point. His knee-jerk reaction to Manfred’s derogatory one-liners about his dying father reduces the son’s motivation to callousness.

A more attentive reading makes clear that, far from being heartless, both the 50-year-old narrator and his younger sister are obsessed with their father. Bewildered by their obsession, they cope by indulging in unfilial character assassination. The result is black comedy that, although sometimes uncomfortably edgy, makes for a richly enjoyable and provocative read. The narrator, doomed to repeat his wild dance of a love-life with ever younger lovers, may finally be saved by the genuinely loving bond between brother and sister. Manfred is a kind and honest soul at heart, far from the one-dimensional, unappealing character Hulse would have him.

Jenny Robin Jones
Wellington

 

Tacky

Envy, scorn, contempt? All and more pervade Paula Morris’ diatribe against New Zealand authors who dare to claim being a “fulltime writer”.  She does, of course, miss the point (as elsewhere). There is no evidence in her article that she understands the history of writing in New Zealand,  adducing the experience of an array of non-New Zealand writers, ancient and modern, to decry the “spurious distinction” of using the term “fulltime” here. Perhaps if she was aware of the enormous difficulty New Zealand writers had, until quite recently, to be taken seriously by society at large as professional practitioners, to somehow survive in a tiny market against the waves of English-language literature rolling in from the UK and USA, then she might be equipped to appreciate the efforts of those who, from Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame onwards, have given their energies “fulltime” to a New Zealand literature. Ms Morris concludes by describing her own hypothetical hyperbole as “tacky”. This could well apply to the tone of the entire article.

Philip Temple
Dunedin

 

Two Moons

There must be two books called Fatal Frontiers by Paul Moon, because the one my husband and I have read bears no relation whatsoever to the one recently reviewed by Steven Eldred-Grigg (NZB, Autumn 2007). We both found Dr Moon’s book to be the best publication on this period of New Zealand history that we have yet come across, and although we are not academics, we have both studied history at university and are able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to historical interpretation.

The writing style was truly absorbing, and, unlike Eldred-Grigg, we were left feeling that our own identity as New Zealanders became a bit clearer because of the way in which Dr Moon shaped his content. This really is “our” history. My only wish is that there are more books like this one to follow.

As a side note, since reading the book, I have met Dr Moon at his office, and although I arrived unannounced, he was very courteous and was generous with his time – nothing at all like the person Eldred-Grigg portrays. So we will be on the lookout now for this other Paul Moon and this other Fatal Frontiers.

Ira and Graeme Taylor
Auckland

 

Serbian ancestry

With such an obvious though unexplained desire to hurl mud at me – both personally and professionally – Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s bitter review of my book Fatal Frontiers would not normally merit any response. However, there was so much in his piece that was plainly wrong that some corrections are required. Among these are that I am not of Serbian ancestry as he states, I am not sexist as he alleges, the Auckland Institute of Technology [sic] where he says I work actually became a university seven years ago, I have written around 12 histories and biographies, not seven as he claims (something that is evident on the front page of my website, which he admits to sifting through), he either misinterprets or misrepresents completely recent research on the French plans for New Zealand in 1839 just to make a point against me, and so on throughout the review.

Then there is the matter of balance. I am accused of using too many primary sources, matched by an allegation later on in the review that I have not used enough. Eldred-Grigg also criticises me for not utilising sources written by Maori in the 1830s, but afterwards concedes that no such sources exist. He seems to be trying too hard, for whatever reason, to pour scorn on me, culminating somewhat desperately when he endeavours to impugn me by claiming I am “liked by the political right” – a fact of which I am aware and for which I feel no need at all to be apologetic.

Happily, Eldred-Grigg seems to be in a minority of one – and is certainly isolated from the opinions of the academic community – but of concern is his loose relationship with accuracy. Had I been supervising a thesis of his with such a high rate of errors and inconsistencies, I would recommend some remedial study.

Professor Paul Moon
Auckland

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