Blog Archives

Devouring the monster within, Jon Johansson

Crossing the Floor: The Story of Tariana Turia Helen Leahy Huia, $45.00, ISBN 9781775501633 In Helen Leahy’s Crossing the Floor: The Story of Tariana Turia, a tale is told about Tūtaeporoporo, a taniwha taking the form of a shark. Tūtaeporoporo

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Undesirables and worthies, John O’Leary

The Girl Who Stole Stockings: The True Story of Susannah Noon and the Women of the Convict Ship Friends Elsbeth Hardie Australian Teachers of Media, $40.00, ISBN 9781876467241 May Your Shadow Never Grow Less: The Life and Times of Henry

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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction and Review

Dazzling, dizzying cornucopias Stella Ramage

Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World
Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney
Potton & Burton, $80.00,
ISBN 9781927213704

Vivid: The Paul Hartigan Story
Don Abbott
RF Books, $65.00,
ISBN 9780473337117

Marcus King and Paul Hartigan belong to that interesting group of New Zealand artists who have successfully combined personal fine art careers with employment as commercial graphic designers and advertising illustrators. At various points in their careers, Russell Clark, Ralph Miller, Graham Percy, Milan Mrkusich, Dick Frizzell and doubtless many others have also juggled day jobs and private artistic practice. With the exception of Mrkusich and Frizzell, these artists have often been relegated to the margins of our national canon (hence the flurry of monographs in recent years intent on reclaiming their artistic legacy from oblivion). Are they suspected of lacking the passionate commitment of the “true” modernist artist: the torment of McCahon, the dedication of Angus, the activism of Hotere or the self-destructiveness of Fomison? The authors of these monographs firmly reject such Byronic assumptions, arguing effectively for a broader, more inclusive version of our national art history that acknowledges commercial art as a valid contribution to our visual culture.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Air-brushed, Nicholas Reid

Helen Clark: Inside Stories
Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon (eds)
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 978186940 8381

She led the parliamentary Labour Party for 15 years and served for nine years as New Zealand’s first elected woman prime minister. She is clearly a person of formidable intelligence, steely determination, and a strong sense of her social objectives. On the New Zealand scene, she was always a canny political operator who knew how to manoeuvre her way through challenges from both outside and inside her own party. (You don’t get re-elected three times as prime minister without having these skills.)

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Hero worship, Gyles Beckford

A Few Hares to Chase: The Life and Economics of Bill Phillips
Alan Bollard
Auckland University Press, $40.00
ISBN 9781869408299

The sages have long counselled that you should never meet your heroes. Should that be extended to writing about them? Alan Bollard has indulged his hero worship in this hagiography of the largely unknown, outside of economic circles, Bill Phillips. “You don’t meet geniuses many times in your life,” Bollard said in a recent RNZ National interview.

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Telling our stories to ourselves, Chris Else

Jerome Kaino: My Story Jerome Kaino Penguin, $40.00, ISBN 9780143573562 Wildboy Brando Yelavich Penguin, $35.00, ISBN 9780143573159 The Good Doctor Lance O’Sullivan Penguin, $38.00, ISBN 9780143572510 How Bizarre Simon Grigg Awa Press, $38.00, ISBN 9781927249222 Lydia Bradey: Going Up is

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Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

“A most entertaining little man”, Chris Szekely

Hocken: Prince of Collectors Donald Jackson Kerr Otago University Press, $60.00, ISBN 9781877578 663 Dry bread and milk for breakfast. Dry bread and milk for supper. Not much chop for a boy of eight at Woodhouse Grove in 1844, but that

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction and Review

The colony’s resident expert of choice, Simon Upton

James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader
Simon Nathan
Geoscience Society of New Zealand, $45.00
ISBN 9781877480461

Simon Nathan’s biography of Sir James Hector fills a major gap in the nation’s historical bibliography. The reasons why the gap remained unfilled for over a century following Hector’s death are worth pondering. A cursory glance through Nathan’s bibliography reveals full length biographies of several of Hector’s scientific contemporaries, McKay, Haast, Buller, Davis and Murchison among them. But Hector’s life, despite his towering public stature in the development of 19th-century New Zealand, remained confined to an MA thesis in 1936 and a more recent doctoral thesis devoted to his early life.

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Posted in Biography, History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Science

Moss, C K Stead

Maurice Gee: Life and Work
Rachel Barrowman
Victoria University Press, $60.00
ISBN 9780864739926

When I was young, New Zealand fiction had three Maurices. Duggan (“Maurice”) was the maestro, Gee (“Moss”) the dependable tradesman, and Shadbolt (“Morrie”) the showman. The maestro wrote mostly very slowly and with difficulty; the tradesman was more fluent and produced new work with what appeared to be near regularity; the showman was always ahead of the pack, prolific and catching the public eye, but was felt by some to be a bit of a sham. All three were in varying degrees neurotic – to be a writer in the 1950s, you had to be.

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Posted in Biography, Literature, Non-fiction and Review
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