Who buys? Nigel Cox

Mountains of the South
John Gordon and John Rundle,
Random Century, $49.95

There was a time when big “glossies” were of real significance to the book trade. Large-format pictorials with high production values which showed beautiful New Zealand at its chocolate-box best sold in huge numbers.

Perhaps we’re less self-absorbed these days or have more urgent uses for our time and money. These books can now be found only in secondhand shops, corners tatty, photographs faded. Will this be the fate of Mountains of the South, which is a medium-economy-sized child of those big, lumbering parents? Perhaps not; this book has a little more character than its forbears. But do people still buy “gift books”? It’s hard to imagine anyone buying this for themselves.

Which, if you are interested in climbing or the cathedrals of stone that the climbs are made on would be a pity. The book has 45 paintings by artist/ climber Rundle and a bright, chatty text from Gordon, the well-known commentator of television’s A Dog’s Show.

Gordon uses every trick he can think of – personal anecdote, historical reminiscence, literary allusion – to add flavour to Rundle’s careful, formal portraits of the peaks and valleys of the South Island’s high country, but despite both writer’s and painter’s enthusiasm for their subject, it’s hard to avoid bringing to mind that sign hung in wartime railway stations: “Is your journey really necessary?”

The book’s best feature is the many small and beautifully detailed pencil sketches which have been included to break up what otherwise would be rather austere walls of text, their idiosyncratic eye freezes a mosquito, a lop-eared sheepdog, a lichen-covered gate with a warmth and affection that the paintings don’t quite enjoy.

The book is nicely designed, well-printed and the paintings make it pleasant to flick through. But who will buy it?


Nigel Cox is a Wellington bookseller.

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Posted in Art, Non-fiction, Review
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