Blog Archives

Dazzling, dizzying cornucopias Stella Ramage

Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World
Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney
Potton & Burton, $80.00,
ISBN 9781927213704

Vivid: The Paul Hartigan Story
Don Abbott
RF Books, $65.00,
ISBN 9780473337117

Marcus King and Paul Hartigan belong to that interesting group of New Zealand artists who have successfully combined personal fine art careers with employment as commercial graphic designers and advertising illustrators. At various points in their careers, Russell Clark, Ralph Miller, Graham Percy, Milan Mrkusich, Dick Frizzell and doubtless many others have also juggled day jobs and private artistic practice. With the exception of Mrkusich and Frizzell, these artists have often been relegated to the margins of our national canon (hence the flurry of monographs in recent years intent on reclaiming their artistic legacy from oblivion). Are they suspected of lacking the passionate commitment of the “true” modernist artist: the torment of McCahon, the dedication of Angus, the activism of Hotere or the self-destructiveness of Fomison? The authors of these monographs firmly reject such Byronic assumptions, arguing effectively for a broader, more inclusive version of our national art history that acknowledges commercial art as a valid contribution to our visual culture.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Brutal love, Rachael Imlay

The Bone People
Keri Hulme
Picador, $25.00,
ISBN 9780330485418

The Bone People (originally published in 1984) is a beautiful, complex, and astounding novel of healing, loss, and love. Keri Hulme utilises an unusual style; switching between viewpoints, first and third person, and employing a magnificent virtuosity with her plays on words. Although this occasionally makes for difficult reading, Hulme’s writing is powerful and its fluidity really allows the reader to connect with the characters’ personalities and thought processes.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Making women visible, Katie Pickles

A History of New Zealand Women
Barbara Brookes
Bridget Williams Books, $70.00,
ISBN 9780908321452

Locating women in history is difficult. New Zealand women are present through the occasional mention in books, official records and newspaper stories but, because they were not considered the stuff of proper historical knowledge, capturing their substance poses many challenges. Their lives, work and thoughts were deemed of secondary importance to men’s, with only a few famous women being known by name. Women’s many and varied contributions were underplayed at the time and through the years, with significant traces of them only remaining in oral traditions passed down through the generations.

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Posted in Gender, History, Non-fiction and Review

Air-brushed, Nicholas Reid

Helen Clark: Inside Stories
Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon (eds)
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 978186940 8381

She led the parliamentary Labour Party for 15 years and served for nine years as New Zealand’s first elected woman prime minister. She is clearly a person of formidable intelligence, steely determination, and a strong sense of her social objectives. On the New Zealand scene, she was always a canny political operator who knew how to manoeuvre her way through challenges from both outside and inside her own party. (You don’t get re-elected three times as prime minister without having these skills.)

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Chalk and cheese William Brandt

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth-century New Zealand
David Hastings
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781869408374

The Scene of the Crime: Twelve Extraordinary True Stories of Crime and Punishment
Steve Braunias
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775540830

Tourism has certainly come a long way. When in 1878 Mary Dobie made the trip from England to New Zealand, travelling in the company of sister Bertha (has that name ever been fashionable?) and mother Ellen, it took her three months. Not surprisingly after such a big investment of time and effort, the women planned a stay of three years – time to attend the wedding of émigré brother Herbert and still fit in a tour of the North Island, taking in, among other places, the fabled Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana. In special travel outfits of their own design (“a stout dungaree petticoat and a loose blouse bodice of thin cotton stuff”), the intrepid trio even visited Fiji and Samoa. “No white woman had ever been there,” journalled Bertha, with some pride, of a caving expedition to the Yasawa Islands.

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

Untitled

Ulex europaeus, gorse A hedge right here he spades a hole, digs me in. Such a fine view of the sea across to a peninsula, a marae, the blue smoke and steam curling from the ground. I put down roots

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Posted in Poem

Bringing the front line home, Sarah Dickson

Evie’s War 
Anna MacKenzie
Longacre, $20.00,
ISBN 9781775537656

Anna Mackenzie’s book gives the reader an insight into WWI through the perspective of Evie, an 18-year-old New Zealander living in England. Shortly after her family arrives there for their tour of Europe, war breaks out and Evie is introduced to a whole new world. She experiences first-hand the horrors inflicted on the men, along with the heartbreak and stress of serving in hospitals – both on the front line and in England. Through Evie’s experiences during the four years, Mackenzie is able to highlight the expectations of Evie and her associates during the war. We see the traditional views that her family holds about Evie’s responsibilities and others’ views about her capabilities.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review, YA Reviewers and Young adults

What’s a New Zealand novel? Sue Esterman

Enemy Camp 
David Hill
Puffin, $20.00, ISBN 9780143309123

Lullaby
Bernard Beckett
Text, $26.00, ISBN 9781922182753

Open Your Eyes, Jackson Ryder
Rudy Castaneda Lopez
Escalator, $30.00, ISBN 9780473295691

It has been interesting to read three such different but compelling books. All three writers are New Zealanders, but only one book is identifiable as a New Zealand novel. I mention this only because there was a session at the recent Writers Week in Wellington during the Arts Festival where I was expecting a robust discussion about what constitutes a New Zealand writer but unfortunately that didn’t happen. So the question is still there, but I don’t think I can address that in this review except through an occasional comment.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review and Young adults

Poem — Fiona Roberton

Dad When I go to visit him at 4:30 on a Friday he thinks Sunday and looks into my eyes as if I might know. I don’t. I don’t even know when his dinner time is. We occupy different worlds

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Posted in Poem
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