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Beyond the pale, Kathryn Walls

Heloise
Mandy Hager
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770992

Heloise is Mandy Hager’s reconstruction in novelistic terms of the lives of the 12th-century lovers Heloise and Abelard, told from Heloise’s point of view. While both Abelard and Heloise read a great deal, neither of them had ever read a novel. They had, no doubt, read Augustine’s Confessions, an autobiography as distant in time from the 12th century as the 12th century is from our own. But Augustine saw no point in the concrete realisation of experience that characterises most novels. Unlike Hager, he does not mention things like the off-putting “flatulence, coughs and wheezing snores” of the convent dormitory, or the impression made on him by “streams of fish gut and animal entrails that [ran] down to meet the river”, or where the privy was. His subject was his psyche as a model for the reader’s. Being an African, he might have been black, but his skin colour remains a mystery. And yet, Hager, whose novel is rich in evocations of earthy reality, is not genuinely concerned with “the medieval body” (although the subject is currently being done to death by academics). Indeed, she has followed in the steps of Augustine (in this respect, at least, as so many great novelists have done) by focusing on the trajectory of her subject’s inner life. Paradoxically, while she has sought to establish authenticity by appealing to our senses, the effect here is decorative. What is truly authentic about her novel is quite different. Hager has, impressively, studied a wealth of primary and secondary texts in order to reconstruct Heloise’s mental and emotional development.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

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

More than just the usual, Flora Fan

Pieces of You  Eileen Merriman Penguin Random House, $20.00, ISBN 9780143770473   Pieces of You is a typical YA coming-of-age novel that surprisingly offers more than a cliché. Not least, it is uniquely set in the familiar setting of Auckland.

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Posted in Literature, Review and Young adults

Truths both bald and stretched, Eirlys Hunter

The Diamond Horse 
Stacy Gregg
HarperCollins, $25.00, ISBN 9780008124397

Grandad’s Wheelies
Jack Lasenby
Penguin Random House, $17.00, ISBN 9780143507338

Rona 
Chris Szekely
Huia, $15.00, ISBN 9781775501985

The Impossible Boy
Leonie Agnew
Penguin Random House, $20.00, ISBN 9780143309062

Reading fiction allows a child to imagine what it would be like to be someone else, and to develop insight into character, motivation and relationships. These four novels are very different from each other, but they all include depictions of behaviour and relationships that will help their readers to understand something true about people.

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Posted in Children, Literature and Review

Māori and Crown relationships  Rewa Morgan

Kūpapa – The Bitter Legacy of Māori Alliances with the Crown  Ron Crosby Penguin Random House, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573111 Recently, we as a nation have experienced more commemoration and public history about New Zealand’s military history than ever before. We

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction and Review
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