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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

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

Grasping for something to say, Tom McLean

Charles Brasch: Selected Poems
Alan Roddick (ed)
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781877578052

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.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Rejecting meat, Alison McKee 

The Compassionate Contrarians: A History of Vegetarians in Aotearoa New Zealand
Catherine Amey
Rebel Press, $20.00,
IBSN 9780473274405

New Zealanders are prolific buyers of cookery books; however, an interest in the social history of eating and cooking has emerged in the last 10 years, with several academic studies now being published not only for research but also for general reading.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction and Review

Looking for home, David Cohen

Barefoot Years
Martin Edmond
Bridget Williams Books, $15.00,
ISBN 9781927277676

On Coming Home
Paula Morris
Bridget Williams Books, $15.00,
ISBN 9780908321117

Somewhere in the course of his perceptive career, in what one assumes was a more or less idle moment, George Orwell turned his attention to the question of whether purchasing cigarettes or literature leaves a larger hole in the average reader’s pocket. To this cobweb-hung dilemma, the English essayist devoted all the remorseless attention with which Marx went about weighing the merits of capitalism and socialism; although there the comparison must end, for Orwell surely never strung a gilded sentence together that would cause a reader mental pain on account of its construction. His tentative conclusion: reading is indeed better for one’s financial health. Workers of the world, unlight!

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review
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