Hold My Teeth While I Teach You to Dance
99% Press, $30.00,
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.
Roly the Anzac Donkey
Glyn Harper (Jenny Cooper illus)
The Song of Kauri
Melinda Szymanik (Dominique Ford illus)
I Am Not a Worm
Sally Sutton (Daron Parton illus)
Walker Books, $28.00,
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.”
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.
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:
Tramping: A New Zealand History
Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean
Craig Potton, $70.00,
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.
Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
The Bitter Sweet Philosophies
K K Jart (text) and Nick Fedaeff (paintings)
Eunoia Publishing, $40.00,
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.”
Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History
Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris
Bridget Williams Books, $100.00,
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?
Dear Neil Roberts
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes
Auckland University Press, $25.00,
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).
Charles Brasch: Selected Poems
Alan Roddick (ed)
Otago University Press, $35.00,
Let us begin with the face. It isn’t what you expect. On the back cover of this trim little book, a woolly-haired young man looks sideways, away from the camera’s gaze, against a backdrop of grass and sky.