Blog Archives

The gap between fiction and history, Hamish Clayton

R.H.I.: Two Novellas
Tim Corballis
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739827

Trifecta
Ian Wedde
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739834

In 1987, the South African novelist J M Coetzee spoke at the Weekly Mail Book Week in Cape Town, offering a few observations on the relation of novels and novel-writing to the times which produce them. Coetzee’s subject was, effectively, the nature of fiction’s relationship to history, a subject peculiarly charged by the time and locale into which his talk – later transcribed as the essay, “The Novel Today” – was delivered. The problem for the novelist, as Coetzee sees it, is that in times of intense ideological pressure (like the apartheid era in South Africa) the gap between fiction and history is squeezed to almost nothing, forcing the novelist to either supplement or rival the power of history itself. Coetzee is mainly concerned with the ethical dimensions of fiction’s resistance to history and, over a lifetime, has produced one of the most remarkable bodies of work of any era, pondering this question among others through fiction and essays.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Digging and delving, Tim Corballis and Ingrid Horrocks

The Grass Catcher: A Digression About Home
Ian Wedde
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739384

The protagonist of the present-day portion of Symmes Hole (1986), Ian Wedde’s canonical and underread novel about settler colonialism, is obsessed with history. He digs and delves in it, but his tools are not always archival in nature. Early in the novel he gulps down an unnamed psychoactive agent that fuels a long hallucinatory reverie of Pacific history. Why the drug? It has its comic uses, of course, but its chief interest is to give history a paradoxical sense of reality, as if the events of the past could be brought right up close and visible by chemical means. The drug does not give its taker any certain, magical knowledge of history. In fact, quite the reverse: it allows rumours and legends into the story as well, and troubles the veracity of the whole picture. But it imbues the past with the glow of urgency. As such, it is one solution to a literary problem that is common, but not limited, to historical fiction: how to make done deeds, matters of dry historical record, leap across the gap that separates them from the pressing concerns of our lives now. In his altered state, Wedde’s researcher need not go looking for the past ‒ the past comes to him. The danger (and the source of much humour) is that it makes history meaningful at the expense of making the historian a dissociative, drug-addled lunatic whom no-one else would go near.

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Posted in Essays, Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Time’s wingèd chariot, Mark Houlahan

Us, Then Vincent O’Sullivan Victoria University Press, $28.00, ISBN 9780867438929 The Lifeguard: Poems 2008-20013 Ian Wedde Auckland University Press, $28.00, ISBN 9781869407698 Life and Customs Bernadette Hall Victoria University Press, $25.00, ISBN 9780864739001 “But at my back I always hear

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

The difficult decisive moment, Tom Elliott

I Loved You the Moment I Saw You Peter Black Victoria University Press, $60.00, ISBN 9780864736598   The first pages of Peter Black’s I Loved You the Moment I Saw You struck me with their colourful, contemporary design and fine

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Posted in Non-fiction, Photography and Review

Being in time, Stephen Harris

The Catastrophe Ian Wedde Victoria University Press, $35.00, ISBN 9780864736475   The image on the cover of Ian Wedde’s new novel, The Catastrophe, sets the satirical tone and pitch of the ensuing story: the bold noun of the title, announcing

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Good returns, Cilla McQueen

Table Talk Kevin Ireland Cape Catley, $25.99, ISBN 9781877340246 Africa Alistair Paterson Puriri Press, $36.00, ISBN 9780908943364 The Lakes of Mars Chris Orsman Auckland University Press, $24.99, ISBN 9781869404086 The Worm in the Tequila Geoff Cochrane Victoria University Press, $25.00,

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Seen in the right light, Jenny Harper

Bill Culbert: Making Light Work Ian Wedde Auckland University Press, $99.99, ISBN 9781869404390 Making Light Work is a great title, the best I’ve come across for some time. It makes me smile and think of Bill Culbert, the subject of

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Time out, Mark Houlahan

Chinese Opera Ian Wedde Victoria University Press, $30.00, ISBN 9780864735850 When a story by Ian Wedde called “Chinese Opera” was published in Sport 2, readers were informed that he expected to “finish Chinese Opera, his fourth novel, in 1989.” Nineteen

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Home and away. Paula Morris

I Am Always With You Philip Temple Random, $34.99, ISBN 1869417739 The Viewing Platform Ian Wedde Penguin, $29.95, ISBN 9780143020929 Local writers Stevan Eldred-Grigg (Kaput!) and Tina Shaw (The Black Madonna) have found imaginative inspiration in wartime Berlin, and now

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

On display, Stuart Murray

Making Ends Meet: Essays and Talks 1992-2004 Ian Wedde Victoria University Press, $39.95, ISBN 086473503 In the title essay of this wonderful collection, originally given as a talk on issues of research and archiving at the National Library of New

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review
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