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Raymond Chandler meets Alfred Bester, Michael Morrissey

Hold My Teeth While I Teach You to Dance
Mike Johnson
99% Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994101518

Mike Johnson is one of our most gifted novelists, yet he has been curiously neglected. I suspect the problem is his bold originality. Each of his novels seems to break new ground, creating a new one-off genre. No wonder critics, not to mention readers, have been baffled. Lear: The Shakespeare Company Plays Lear at Babylon was an extraordinary tour de force set in a post-apocalyptic world which, like Joyce’s Ulysses, draws on a parallel literary universe. Thus, the reader is invited to read the world through a double focus. The effect is enriching. In Dumb Show, his fourth novel, he successfully relocated the gothic of the American Deep South to New Zealand in all its cruelty and bleakness. Father, one of the central characters, is granted the grace of redemption.

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Posted in Fiction and Literature

History, myth and jollity, Linda Burgess

Roly the Anzac Donkey
Glyn Harper (Jenny Cooper illus)
Puffin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143506638

The Song of Kauri
Melinda Szymanik (Dominique Ford illus)
Scholastic, $27.00,
ISBN 9781775432289

I Am Not a Worm
Scott Tulloch
Scholastic, $19.00,
ISBN 9781775432517

Zoo Train
Sally Sutton (Daron Parton illus)
Walker Books, $28.00,
ISBN 9781922179876

There’s an immutable force that stands between a child and a book: the adult who buys it. There’s already been the adult who wrote it, published it, reviewed it, stocked it, displayed it – all that has to have taken place before the child can say that magical – sometimes chilling – word: “Again.”

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Posted in Children, Literature and Review

Obituary — Campbell Smith

The world a stage

Gregory O’Brien recalls the life and work of artist and writer Campbell Smith (1925-2015)

The last time I saw Campbell Smith was in June a year ago. Friends from around the country had gathered at Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre to celebrate his life’s work and watch a performance of his play, Ida and I (aka Quite a Woman), a doco-drama – if such a thing can exist onstage – about the Waikato painter and arts-advocate, Ida Carey. It was both a glorious and a traumatic occasion.

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Posted in Obituaries

Reading as mudlarking

The Chimes
Anna Smaill
Sceptre
ISBN 9781444794533

The Chimes, debut novel of poet and violinist Anna Smaill, portrays a post-apocalyptic but disorientingly medieval dystopia dominated by music. The novel opens with Simon, a boy on his own, as he embarks on a mysterious errand to London. But this is London as we’ve never seen – or more accurately – heard it before:

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Letters — Issue 111

Over-egging (more…)

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Posted in Letters

Permolat and dogbox bivs, Hannah McGregor

Tramping: A New Zealand History
Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean
Craig Potton, $70.00,
ISBN 9781927213230

Tramping: A New Zealand History travels lightly through terrain which will feel familiar to many of its readers, the extended family of woollen-sock wearing, pack-hauling, bushwhackers. These people exist in sufficient numbers in this country to ensure this history will eventually become a collectors’ item. To obtain it, it will become necessary to tramp well into the back shelves of second-hand bookshops.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Byzantine complexity, Geoffrey Palmer

Democracy in New Zealand
Raymond Miller
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869408350

Democracy in New Zealand is a competent work by an experienced and well-published Professor of Politics at the University of Auckland. Clearly designed as a student text for an introductory course in politics in New Zealand universities, it reflects its author’s research interests in electoral systems, government formation and execution, political parties, interest groups, political representation and leadership. Miller’s more specialised comparative work with Ian Marsh, Democratic Decline and Democratic Renewal, was published in 2012.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

The magic between the panels, Adrian Kinnaird

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen
Dylan Horrocks
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780864739759

The Bitter Sweet Philosophies
K K Jart (text) and Nick Fedaeff (paintings)
Eunoia Publishing, $40.00,
ISBN 9780692215630

As the superheroes wage their endless battle in the sky above, Alice reassures Sam, “But what does it matter if it’s not real? It’s a Fantasy. The idea is to enjoy it!” But Sam is unconvinced: “I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s not mine.”

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Posted in Fiction, Graphic novel, Literature and Review

Tangata ora, Matariki Williams

Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History

Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris
Bridget Williams Books, $100.00,
ISBN 9781927131411

The final chapter of the weighty Tangata Whenua is titled “Tangata Whenua, Tangata Ora”, and the book could just as easily have been called that. Throughout the three millennia that are chronicled, an overwhelming theme of the book is that Māori endure, adapt, and live. Any student of New Zealand history will have heard the unfortunate phrase uttered in 1856 by physician and politician Dr Isaac Featherston, that it was the duty of Europeans to “smooth down … [the] dying pillow” for Māori. His was a viewpoint brought forth by the belief that the indigenous population could not withstand European conquest and disease. What more of a testament to Māori endurance can there be than the release of a book detailing the way in which Māori live, nigh on 150 years after that phrase was uttered?

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

As if shadows could whisper, Emma Neale

Dear Neil Roberts
Airini Beautrais
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780864739735

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes
Chris Tse
Auckland University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869408183

Both collections under review here act as witness to politically charged historic events. One pivots on a suicide, one on a murder. Despite the way each book edges towards psychological release, the deaths of Joe Kum Yung and Neil Roberts unsettle still, as if shadows could whisper: “Listen: / there’s a hunger in the air. It’s reciting prophecies” (‘(Static, Spool)’, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes).

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review
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