Beach holiday is a convoluted affair, The Monday Book Group

Last Summer
Gaelyn Gordon,
David Ling Publishing, $24.95

Gaelyn Gordon writes well enough, and this, her third book for adults (she has previously written for children), is a ripping yarn. The simple quality of her writing is perhaps intended as a foil to the irony that Gordon seems intent on developing in this story of lust and deception under the summer sun. The story centres on Pippa, part-Maori, intellectually impaired, and beautiful. She is the catalyst of all that follows as she impinges on the unattractive selection of summer visitors who invade the (so far) remote and unspoiled Coromandel Beach, the setting of the story. Lovely innocent Pippa lives with her solo mother, seriously ill and, of course, not receiving adequate health care. Enter on the scene Derek and Wanda, incompatible and bored with their relationship. They meet up with Tony, successful TV personality, but Tony fancies Derek and successfully seduces him. However, Derek also succumbs to the charms of the receptive Pippa and deflowers her among the sand dunes.

Also on the scene are Tony’s odd collection of house guests, including aging homosexual author, lesbian couple, transvestite photographer, et al. Add to this brew Warren, born again Christian evangelist, his faded wife, Evadne, and rebellious children (playing cricket on the beach). Abused as a child, Warren is himself a child abuser, and, you’ve guessed it, Pippa is his target. Joan and Graham are the hardworking, genuine article storeowners, whose main concern is ordering the bread for the summer visitors, a task that apparently represents the down-to-earth commonsense of these two.

Can Gordon be serious? In a recent Listener interview, she said that she wrote this tale tongue in cheek. Whether she did or not, she succeeds in trivialising some major issues (and there aren’t many she’s left out). The result is a contrived and disjointed story in which none of the characters is fully developed. Each is no more than a cardboard pop-up figure, seemingly devised to make a point. Except for Pippa. Here Gordon is more successful. She captures the essence of Pippa, dealing with her feelings and desires with sensitivity and understanding. Also on the credit side, Gordon vividly evokes the nostalgia of a kiwi beach holiday.

Oh, by the way, did we mention that the greedy corporate land developers arrive in the end, to despoil this lovely environment, thus further blighting the lives of the unhappy characters? But Joan and Graham will probably do all right.

Summer holidays may never be the same again. Instead of lying contentedly in the sun with a good book, and making the occasional dash into the sea, will we spend our time observing our fellow sunbathers, viewing with suspicion the Christian group playing cricket along the beach? Will we recognise the lonely beauty lurking in the sand dunes as a symbol of total innocence? Probably not. We’re likely to be just as self-centred as the characters in the book.


The ten Wellington women who make up the Monday Book Group meet each month to discuss recently published books.



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