Cape Catley, Whatamongo Bay, 1991, $14.95
Jack Lasenby has for some time now been delighting young New Zealanders (and those adults fortunate to have come across them) with his stories about Uncle Trev. Based firmly in the rural life of a small Waikato town in the 1930s, as seen by the young Jack Lasenby, the Uncle Trev stories tell of a way of life that is fast disappearing, if indeed it has not already gone.
When the narrator’s mother leaves him alone to go to Institute, a wedding, or even at times when she is in the room, his Uncle Trev drops in for a cup of tea and tells him (the narrator) a story. ‘The Travelling Asparagus Bed’, the reading dog, the giant kauri, the false teeth and the silent movies are some of the entertaining characters we meet in these humorous tales.
Like the best tall stories in the world, Jack Lasenby’s are solidly rooted in the real world, embroidering the truth for comic effect. The local setting adds to the sense of familiarity, lulling the reader or listener, like the narrator, into the belief that the stories are true. They read aloud effortlessly, a result that only comes from extensive revision, honing and polishing.
The paperback format and price make this book accessible, although in places the design gives a cramped feel. This being the first of several of Uncle Trev stories, perhaps the publisher might consider a ‘best of’ collection in hardback, well designed and produced, with illustrations by the artist, Bob Kerr, whose cover conveys the period atmosphere superbly. Not just for children, Uncle Trev will delight all New Zealanders.
Bruce Morris is a librarian and children’s book reviewer.