Blog Archives

The thrills of genre-literacy, David Larsen

The New Animals
Pip Adam
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561162

Pip Adam’s second novel is bewildering. I say this as praise, though also as fair warning.

On page one we meet Carla, who has stopped on her way somewhere to buy a cup of tea. She is not enjoying the experience:

The whole of St Kevin’s Arcade was awful now … it was clean and the café down the end of the arcade served ricotta doughnuts to men in suits and she couldn’t stand it. She’d lived in Auckland for 43 years and it still wasn’t finished. Nothing stayed in place.

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The grimness of contemporary realism, John McCrystal

Five Strings
Apirana Taylor
Anahera Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473389482

Iceland
Dominic Hoey
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 978094749343I

It’s that time of the three-yearly cycle again. A billboard has gone up near my house promoting the political party that has, for the last couple of terms, been promising us a brighter future. It claims this party is “Delivering for New Zealanders” – which is true, so long as you don’t read it as a claim that it is delivering for all New Zealanders. And, as for the brighter future, well, there is a significant number of people in New Zealand for whom the future can only be brighter, given how bleak their present is.

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Cliquety-clique? David Hill

Twice Upon a Time
James Norcliffe
Puffin NZ, $17.00,
ISBN 9780143770671

Into the White
Joanna Grochowicz
Allen and Unwin, $19.00,
ISBN 9781760293659

Taupo Blows!
Doug Wilson
Bateman, $19.00,
ISBN 9781869539672

Those accusations from a few months back – the ones which told us New Zealand literature is a cliquey little club, rampant with mutual back-scratching and buttock-wiping, with the Book Council and New Zealand Books among its most self-serving cliquettes: am I the only one who found them a tad same-old, same-old?

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature and Review

Who is Sam? Phillip Mann

Star Sailors
James McNaughton
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561018

This book is not science fiction; it is science fact. Global warming, unless controlled, will create an uninhabitable world. The threat is real: it is here, it is now and it is not going away. Only we can stop it … and the clock is ticking. Though a day does not pass without our being made aware of global warming we, as the animal primarily responsible, do not seem able to take the necessary decisive action to avert it. Why is this?

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Kelp triffids, zombie chickens and taniwha, Annabel Gooder

Speculative fiction
At the Edge
Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray (eds)
Paper Road Press, $31.50,
ISBN 9780473354152

At the Edge is an original anthology of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy and horror) stories by New Zealand and Australian authors. The title is advantageously open; the eponymous edge can be outer space, a frontier planet, the border between the mundane and the supernatural, or living down here at the edge of the world. In a third of the 23 stories, that edge is apocalyptic. Another handful feature ghosts, and several more are about body-snatching or metamorphosis. Five take place off planet Earth, and the remaining few are varied – a  protagonist with narcolepsy, a pre-teen girl adopted by a street goblin, a housesitter with a zombie chicken problem.

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Courting controversy, Emma Martin

Fiction
The Suicide Club
Sarah Quigley
Vintage, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771012

Midway through Sarah Quigley’s The Suicide Club, Lace, one of its three troubled young protagonists, recalls a story told to her by her father, a celebrated film-maker who, along with Lace’s mother and younger sister, died in horrifying circumstances when Lace was eight – a loss which she has learned to accommodate, but from which she has in no way recovered. In the story, a beautiful princess develops an allergy to sunlight, which leaves her crying salty tears that form small ponds around her. The allergy becomes progressively more extreme until she is unable to tolerate even artificial light, leaving her living in darkness with only a blind manservant for company.

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People and places, Louise O’Brien

A Surfeit of Sunsets
Dulcie Castree
Mākaro Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123787

The Earth Cries Out
Bonnie Etherington
Vintage, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770657

In the late Dulcie Castree’s novel, Shirley abandons her sophisticated life in Wellington in favour of the small seaside town, and its eccentric society, of Taiwhenua on the Kāpiti Coast. Nursing a broken heart and feeling pretty sorry for herself, she finds herself besieged by A Surfeit of Sunsets, relentlessly predictable in their daily beauty.

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The mess we’re in, Anne Kennedy

Lifting
Damien Wilkins
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561025

In the opening scene of Lifting, Amy, a department store detective, is pursuing a “Person of Interest” (POI) – a ubi-quitous, parka-wearing woman who is probably about to nick the wallets she has in her hand – when the POI stops to gaze at the indoor fountain, and the cat-and-mouse game pauses. Amy has noticed that lots of people hover at the fountain in Cutty’s store, not just because indoor water has “a terrible magic … might flow out and wreck things”, but for the opulent statue at its centre, a bronze Mercury, the Roman god (we are reminded) of “commerce, poetry and theft”. Despite the poor guy having been puritanically castrated years before, he remains focal in the store, with his winged feet and helmet, his attendant serpents.

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Filling historical gaps, Claire Mabey

Daylight Second
Kelly Ana Morey
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775540526

I am certain that I’ve seen Phar Lap. Somewhere, in the back of my memory, is a child’s-eye view of a very large horse in a glass case in a museum, somewhere. Claimed by Australians like pavlova and Crowded House, he’s up there on the shelf reserved for New Zealand national icons: All Blacks, Phar Lap, kiwifruit, Helen Clark.

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Whose pain? Sarah Ross

Strip
Sue Wootton
Mākaro, $40.00,
ISBN 9780994123756

To spend the duration of Sue Wootton’s Strip in the presence of her protagonist, Dr Harvey Wright, is not an entirely comfortable experience. Harvey is a community GP who is dissatisfied in an unspectacular kind of way – a little ground down by the reality of keeping up a practice, a little paunchy, in a marriage grappling with unsuccessful IVF – when he becomes, in the novel’s opening page, a cartoonist. The medical magazine Health Matters takes on his Dr Doctor strip, a monthly funny of a Dad-joke kind, and it is for Harvey as if “a window had cracked open a tad and a puff of fresh air blown in”. Into his baggily comfortable existence, his new identity as a cartoonist injects a “flower-burst of elation”.

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