Blog Archives

Sweet recklessness, Kiran Dass

The Salted Air  Thom Conroy Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9781775538820 “We strut about imagining heroism and lucky saves, but we’ve got it all wrong. Catastrophe arrives when the air is warm and people are everywhere … .” So observes the keenly self-aware

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The headlock of myth, Mark Reason

Seelenbinder: The Olympian Who Defied Hitler James McNeish Steele Roberts, $35.00, ISBN 9780947493011 “After a certain time a life exists not for what it is in reality, but for its mythological qualities”: in that one sentence, James McNeish defines his

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Brutal love, Rachael Imlay

The Bone People
Keri Hulme
Picador, $25.00,
ISBN 9780330485418

The Bone People (originally published in 1984) is a beautiful, complex, and astounding novel of healing, loss, and love. Keri Hulme utilises an unusual style; switching between viewpoints, first and third person, and employing a magnificent virtuosity with her plays on words. Although this occasionally makes for difficult reading, Hulme’s writing is powerful and its fluidity really allows the reader to connect with the characters’ personalities and thought processes.

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Bringing the front line home, Sarah Dickson

Evie’s War 
Anna MacKenzie
Longacre, $20.00,
ISBN 9781775537656

Anna Mackenzie’s book gives the reader an insight into WWI through the perspective of Evie, an 18-year-old New Zealander living in England. Shortly after her family arrives there for their tour of Europe, war breaks out and Evie is introduced to a whole new world. She experiences first-hand the horrors inflicted on the men, along with the heartbreak and stress of serving in hospitals – both on the front line and in England. Through Evie’s experiences during the four years, Mackenzie is able to highlight the expectations of Evie and her associates during the war. We see the traditional views that her family holds about Evie’s responsibilities and others’ views about her capabilities.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review, YA Reviewers and Young adults

What’s a New Zealand novel? Sue Esterman

Enemy Camp 
David Hill
Puffin, $20.00, ISBN 9780143309123

Lullaby
Bernard Beckett
Text, $26.00, ISBN 9781922182753

Open Your Eyes, Jackson Ryder
Rudy Castaneda Lopez
Escalator, $30.00, ISBN 9780473295691

It has been interesting to read three such different but compelling books. All three writers are New Zealanders, but only one book is identifiable as a New Zealand novel. I mention this only because there was a session at the recent Writers Week in Wellington during the Arts Festival where I was expecting a robust discussion about what constitutes a New Zealand writer but unfortunately that didn’t happen. So the question is still there, but I don’t think I can address that in this review except through an occasional comment.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review and Young adults

Looking for love, Kirsten McDougall

52 Men 
Louise Wareham Leonard
Red Hen Press, $36.00,
ISBN 97815970999967

I felt deeply sad upon finishing Louise Wareham Leonard’s new book, 52 Men. Its constituent 52 parts tell a story that fits right into our Tinder-times, even though Leonard is reporting back from the age before apps supported hook-ups. Dating can be a perilous business for the mind, heart and body, and it was both fascinating and sobering to read through the 52 encounters. But this book is more than just about dating 52 men; it is a book about the power dynamics that exist in our society between a rich man and a comparatively less wealthy woman; a famous man and a non-famous woman; a girl and an older man. The complex layers of sexual desire, emotional torment, fun and recklessness are all in here; but there is not much love to be found. The final story explains why that might be so. And this left me sad.

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Unearthing skeletons, John McCrystal

Daughters of Messene
Maggie Rainey-Smith
Makaro Press, $35.00, ISBN 9780994117267

Something Else
David Parkyn (Sally Griffin illus)
Piedog Press, $38.00, ISBN 9780473321505

“There are only two or three human stories,” as Willa Cather once said, “and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” It is as true in literature as it is in life, which is why, for all the apparently endless ingenuity of storytellers, most narratives end up fitting a mere handful of genres.

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Love and war, Murray Bramwell

Love as a Stranger
Owen Marshall
Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9781775538578

The Antipodeans
Greg McGee
Upstart Press, $38.00, ISBN 9781927262030

In his captivating new novel, Love as a Stranger, Owen Marshall immediately greets the reader with portents. The epigraph quotes the 17th-century dramatist and poet, Pedro Calderon de la Barca: “When love is not madness, it is not love.” And the opening sentence in the opening chapter, set in the present,  but located in a 19th-century Auckland cemetery, establishes with a limpid calm a story that is both pleasingly, disarmingly familiar and subtly marbled with a sinister unease:

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Walking in the real world, Owen Marshall

Dad Art  
Damien Wilkins
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776560561

Acoustic engineer Michael Stirling is divorced, in contact through a dating site with apparently grieving Chrissie, tending a father in a dementia unit, living in Wellington’s Sanctum Apartments having lost his house, coping with a minor surgical procedure, learning te reo Māori and providing temporary accommodation for his daughter Samantha who has arrived from Auckland roped to a young Māori man as an artistic experiment. Enough to be going on with. The mid-life crisis is a well-worn theme in modern fiction, but Damien Wilkins gives it a welcome and spirited outing.

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Changed, changed utterly, Diane Comer

Earthquakes & Butterflies Kathleen Gallagher Wickcandle Books, $35.00, ISBN 9780473332327 Kathleen Gallagher’s Earthquakes & Butterflies is a work of profound beauty and healing for all of us who experienced the Christchurch earthquakes, however near or far we were from the

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