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Issue 108 Summer 2014

Volume 24 | Number 4 |  Issue 108 | Summer 2014   Paul Morris: “The ordeal of civility” (Comment) Don Brash: Sharleen Forbes and Antong Victorio (eds), The New Zealand CPI at 100: History and Interpretation Ruth Nichol: Geoff Cochrane, Astonished

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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

No drive-by answers, David Cohen

Sorrows of a Century: Interpreting Suicide in New Zealand, 1900-2000
John C Weaver
Bridget Williams Books, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927277232

All of us seek happiness, Pascal declared centuries ago, even at the point of a warm gun. “This is without exception,” argued the author of the Pensées:

Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

A poverty of compassion, Rod Oram

Child Poverty in New Zealand
Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple
Bridget Williams Books, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927247860

“New Zealand has the necessary resources to reduce child poverty, and equitable and efficient ways to secure these resources are available. The question is not about our capacity, it is about our political will.” This is the unequivocal conclusion of Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple in their book Child Poverty in New Zealand. They base it on their exhaustive analysis of the scale, complexity and damage of child poverty, and the myriad ways we could tackle it.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review and Sociology

Short stories as selfless, Christine Johnston

The Red Queen
Gemma Bowker-Wright
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739209

Empty Bones and Other Stories
Breton Dukes
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739186

The Red Queen and Empty Bones, two short story collections by new writers, while having much in common, offer individual visions of the contemporary world. The Red Queen is Gemma Bowker-Wright’s first book, and the latter publication is Breton Dukes’s second. (Bird North appeared in 2011 to some acclaim.) These authors certainly aren’t novices.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review and Short stories

Sex-free romance and YA cred, Paula Morris

Bugs
Whiti Hereaka
Huia, $25.00,
ISBN 9781775501336

When We Wake
Karen Healey
Allen & Unwin, $22.00,
ISBN 9781742378084

Awakening
Natalie King
Penguin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143570790

Bugs, the eponymous protagonist of Whiti Hereaka’s first YA novel, is unimpressed with much of what her generation is expected to read. Her English teacher insists they discuss that infamous “human/werewolf/vampire love triangle … because the characters are our age, they’re going through what we’re going through, we can relate. Like half of us could relate to a white chick with a thing for dogs and dead dudes.”

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review and Young adults

Just perk up your ears, Barbara Else

The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd
Finlay Macdonald
Penguin, $50.00,
ISBN 9780143567967

A tousle on spindly legs has conquered the world. How did it happen? Finlay Macdonald’s biography of Lynley Dodd describes her journey from childhood in the Kaingaroa Forest in the middle of the North Island to her creation of the tousle, Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s dairy, as if you needed to be reminded) and on to the sale of many millions of picture books.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Explaining WWI, Steven Loveridge

The Bantam and the Soldier
Jennifer Beck (Robyn Belton illus)
Scholastic, $19.50,
ISBN 9781775432074

The Anzac Puppy
Peter Millett (Trish Bowles illus)
Scholastic, $19.50,
ISBN 9781775430971

Best Mates: Three Lads Who Went to War Together
Philippa Werry (Bob Kerr illus)
New Holland, $20.00,
ISBN 9781869664114

Jim’s Letters
Glyn Harper (Jenny Cooper illus)
Picture Puffin, $25.00,
ISBN 9780143505907

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story
Philippa Werry (Bob Kerr illus)
New Holland, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869663803

The contemporary challenge of making sense of WWI is made considerably trickier in regard to young readers with the, (understandable) limits on how the realities of war might be conveyed to the 5-12 age group. Rising to this challenge, and joining the surge of publications accompanying the war’s centenary, the five works reviewed here present aspects of New Zealand’s war experience to young readers. Striking illustrations, some sketched from familiar photographs, aid in this task, conveying scene and tone. Indeed, the attention to expressions and pose (which range from scenes of mirth to downward gazes and thousand-yard stares) are well used to convey mood. They are also imbued with an impressive attention to detail; though I’ll have to ask Bob Kerr how available The Māoriland Worker, which the Best Mates are shown reading, was at Gallipoli.

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Posted in Children, Literature, Review and War

Yesterday today, Glyn Harper

How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War
Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739353

With the centenary of WWI now upon us, a flood of books on New Zealand’s role in that conflict can be expected. The first of these appeared in late 2013, and this trend will continue for the next few years. Amongst the books on offer in 2014 is How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts. Few of the publications that will appear over the coming years will match How We Remember for its diversity or its insights.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Sociology and War

War stories, Anne Else

Passing Through
Coral Atkinson
Dancing Tuatara, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473262693

Heartland
Jenny Pattrick
Black Swan, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775535850

Tropic of Guile
Sue McCauley
Xlibris, $42.00,
ISBN 9781483683195

All three of these novels centre on hard-won survival against the odds of poverty, violence and malice, offset by love, loyalty and friendship; but the clashes they chronicle range widely in time, place and complexity.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review
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