Blog Archives

Getting the news out, James Norcliffe

Surviving 7.8: New Zealanders Respond to the Earthquakes of November 2016
Phil Pennington and Radio New Zealand
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775541103

 

New Zealanders, Cantabrians in particular, have, over the last half-dozen years, become reluctant experts in earthquakes. We have experienced the wobbly ones, the shuddery ones, the bumpy ones, the noisy ones that just go whack – a whole hitherto unknown taxonomy of geomorphological effects. The Richter scale has become as familiar as the bathroom scales and referred to as often. One of our favourite websites is Geonet, and glib, hackneyed epithets like earth-shattering and world-shaking have taken on a whole new oh-so literal meaning.

Thus, when, just after midnight on November 14, 2016, we were woken by a long rolling shake that seemed to go on and on forever, my wife and I knew at once that we were experiencing another Big One, but we knew, too, that it wasn’t Christchurch this time; it was farther away. Our first thought was the Main Divide, our second thought was Wellington, and we were immediately concerned for friends and family in the capital.

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Posted in History, Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Streets, waters, winds, Kirsty Gunn

A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888 – 1903
Redmer Yska
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522544

“There is a handful of writers” begins Vincent O’Sullivan’s introduction to a rare and illuminating account of the city in which Katherine Mansfield was born and grew up,

who at times seem to hold their admirers almost as much by the enigma of personality, or the curious weave of their lives, as they do by their first and sustained impact as writers … Each time we go back to a favourite story … there is that teasing urge to know what came before

In a few elegant sentences we have outlined for us a literary study of riveting depth and focus that, in drawing together history, biography, lyrical essay and reportage gives us back, in deeper colours, the life and work of one of those whose story we continue to be drawn towards, who takes her place amongst the world’s key modernists, a leading practitioner of the short story form, and here, too, a young New Zealand girl.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Larrikins past, Nick Bollinger

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand
Chris Brickell
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408688

 

In 1971, I became a teenager. It was the start of a complicated, confusing, exciting time. Over the next few years, I would immerse myself in music, experiment with sex and drugs, form lifelong friendships and explore various kinds of rebellion, as I tried to figure out what this adult world was that I was growing towards, and what my place in it might be.

If there’s a personal message I can take from Chris Brickell’s Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand, it is that my experience was far from unique. The adolescent’s quest to define him- or herself as they navigate the path from childhood to adulthood has been taking place in various forms since the earliest days of New Zealand society. Yet the teenage experience has had little written about it, at least by historians. When teenagers are acknowledged, Brickell notes, it is usually in terms of adults’ condemnation.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Gloomy agreement, Tom Brooking

The New Zealand Project
Max Harris
Bridget Williams Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947492588

New Zealand: Paradise Squandered? Reflections on What We’ve Lost and Where We’re Heading
John Hawkes
John Hawkes, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473375553

Two New Zealanders at either end of their writing lives have set down their diagnosis on what is currently wrong with New Zealand and suggest some possible solutions that might be implemented to rid us of their rather lengthy list of ills.

Twenty-seven-year-old Max Harris is a law student and holder of a prestigious Examination Scholarship from All Souls College Oxford; John Hawkes is a retired rheumatologist who worked in the United Kingdom and France for several years and is now in his 80s. Despite the generational gap, they are pretty much agreed on what is wrong with New Zealand. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review and Sociology

“Loneliness was his condition”, Owen Marshall

Notes From the Margins: The West Coast’s Peter Hooper
Pat White
Frontiers Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473380663

A journey is a kind of endless forgetting. The boys lived only in the present, seeking a river crossing, probing a thorny thicket for the easiest passage, cooking a meal, hearing the night bird in the silence of the hills.

A Song in the Forest

The South Island’s West Coast features prominently in New Zealand literature, its swashbuckling history and impressive natural environment providing many advantages of setting. Charlotte Randall, Eleanor Catton, Jenny Pattrick and Amy Head are among those who have produced quality fiction associated with the region. Its perceived society and culture, however, are not those that would seem to foster a literary disposition among people who live there, yet Keri Hulme, Mervyn Thompson, Bill Pearson, Toss Woollaston and Philip May represent those with such ties. None has been more closely associated with the Coast than Peter Hooper (1919–1991), the subject of this biography.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Fifty years on, Spiro Zavos

The Team that Changed Rugby Forever: The 1967 All Blacks
Alex McKay
New Holland Publishers, $35.00,
ISBN 9781869664725

 

On the afternoon of the first test between New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions, the 1967 All Blacks held a reunion in the Barbarians room at Eden Park. The reunion marked 50 years from the team’s epic unbeaten tour of Britain and France. A photo was taken of the 11 survivors who could make the journey to Auckland. It is a poignant portrait of a famous group of the boys of winter in the winter of their years. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sport

Connecting kindred tribes, David Eggleton

Black Marks on the White Page
Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti (eds)
Penguin Random House, $40.00,
ISBN 9780143770299

Billed as a guidebook to the contemporary literature of Oceania, Black Marks on the White Page is not quite that; it’s too eclectic, too much of a hotchpotch for a start, sweeping erratically back and forth across the Pacific to locate, we are told, “the best new and uncollected fiction” generated out of the rolling identity revolution of Pasifika peoples in the 21st century. You could make a very long list of “the best” that is not included. What this anthology is is a sampling: it contains 29 examples of “story-telling” by 25 writers, complemented or contextualised by images of nine artworks by nine artists.

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Posted in Art, Literature, Maori, Non-fiction, Pacific and Short stories

Nosing out the story, Lawrence Patchett

Breaking Ranks: Three Interrupted Lives
James McNeish
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775540908

Partway through Breaking Ranks: Three Interrupted Lives, James McNeish stops his narrative to admit his own bias. “At this point,” he writes, “I had better come clean and declare my own interest.” His declaration relates to his account of Peter Mahon, the judge who led the inquiry into the 1979 Erebus disaster. Yet it applies to his approach to the other figures of Breaking Ranks, too: the psychiatrist John Saxby and the decorated soldier Reginald Miles.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Brave writing, Charlotte Simmonds

The Walking Stick Tree
Trish Harris
Escalator Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994118646

A Small Blue Thing
Julie Hanify
Submarine, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123770

The Case of the Missing Body
Jenny Powell
Otago University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781877578311

What Does the Sea Sound Like?
Evie Mahoney
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473367718

My friend Uther once called a play A Show About Superheroes, partly as a ploy to get non-theatre people into theatres, under the logic that there are people who will go to anything if it is about superheroes. Similarly, there are people who will read any book on certain topics.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Balancing the probabilities, Christopher Pugsley

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton and Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

“What is it that we don’t understand? We’re going to lose this fucking war if we don’t stop killing civilians”: General Stanley McChrystal’s outburst at his morning staff briefing in the summer of 2009 reflected his concern about the steady trickle of Afghan civilian deaths from operations conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). He wrote that the “instinctive way we reacted to alleged incidents made it worse”.  Investigations and apologies meant little if the incidents continued as they did. As a group of Afghan elders told one of his fact-finding teams: “Afghans hear with their eyes, not just with their ears.” In essence, it is not what you say, but what you do – which is the story of Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War
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