Better than boring
Andrew Mason’s sulphurous response (NZB, December 2004) to my article on academic reviewers – the article that level-headed Dame Fiona Kidman called level-headed – made through the fumes one point I could discern that I can help him with. He says I didn’t elaborate on my statement that “some of the country’s best creative writing is done by journalists”. I had assumed that most people who read New Zealand Books also read newspapers and magazines. Here is a list of journalists who are fine creative writers, better than many boring novelists: Steve Braunias, Michele Hewitson, Peter Calder, Denis Welch, Joe Bennett, Tom Scott, Tony Reid, Iain Sharp, Tapu Misa … . There are many others.
Anyway, who is the unworldly Andrew Mason? I’ve never heard of him. Is he a member of the Cistercian Order?
Giving away the plot
As I was about to pick up and begin reading my copy of Tu, I chanced upon your magazine which included the review by Chris Else (NZB, December 2004). I was enjoying the article and looking forward to the book until I came across the sentences “and despite the death of his two brothers” and “to Pita’s and Rangi’s two children”.
I have since read the book and certainly it is abundantly clear in the first few pages that one of the brothers died and quite probably both, and there is the reference to the placing of an apostrophe that reveals information about parentage. However, I dislike intensely the habit of reviewers of revealing information that the reader should discover at the time the author intended; the reviewer should not assume we all read book reviews after we have read the book (even though this sometimes seems to be the only “safe” way).
This book reviewer is by no means the worst offender; on-air reviews seem to be the worst, reviewers often justifying the release of plot lines by saying that they won’t reveal the ending. I prefer to believe that the author is the person best equipped to reveal information when it is appropriate to the storyline; information known in advance often substantially alters one’s feelings about – and enjoyment of – the book in question.
I am sure the art of reviewing is a difficult one, providing background information and conveying a sense of the worth or otherwise of a book. In this case, I believe the reviewer erred in revealing information quite unnecessary to the strength of his review.
Defending or attacking
Tony Simpson (NZB, October 2004) believes the revival of interest in Anzac Day attendances reflects a recognition of the New Zealand character and past service. My view is that today the dawn parade is a symbol of New Zealand middle- and working-class recalcitrance, a rejection of the modern world and its sexual, work and social freedoms. The march is an attack on our society not a defence of it. He is honest enough to admit that Freyberg’s men were honed into a grey efficient killing machine. In the photos of the All Blacks at their peak, say the ‘67 test against France, the forward pack moves in sync with the body posture and language of images of the German SS units in the Ukraine in 1942.
It is always interesting that our war history concentrates on the sideshows Gallipoli, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Ignored is the more technological and more central service of New Zealanders in the RN, RAF and RNZAF. I often wonder if it would not be better to forget WWI since it was a war for no reason, created out of war enthusiasm, and it and the events of 1918-20 Versailles and the occupation of the Rhineland inevitably led to WWII.
As an anti-frigate campaigner from 1986-1998, I would have to say I do not want the return to an army-oriented forward intervention peacekeeping force. I simply do not believe in policing, control, intimidation and occupation by the poor from Timaru, Glasgow, Kentucky or West Virginia. I want a breakout from the ANZUS-dependent forces of a few highly specialised naval units to a development of the Irish/Danish and US Coast Guard ideas. Half a dozen of the Protector OPVs with the addition of a 57mm gun might do the trick.
View from the spire
Harvey McQueen in his review of Eric Mould’s and my own Working Voices (NZB, October 2004) wrote with his usual maturity, although I would like to correct him on one matter of fact – facts seeming to me to be important on a different level than the literary. McQueen wrote: “The view from the Cathedral spire revealed the class structure of Christchurch: to the north-west, large-sectioned leafy suburbs; to the south-east, industry and small cottages with tiny garden plots.” He is referring here particularly to Addington – my section of Working Voices.
It may possibly have been true of the adjoining suburb of Sydenham that the garden plots were “tiny”. Not being a notably Irish/Catholic area (quite the reverse in fact, it seemed remarkably sane) I cannot say with certainty what size the garden plots were, not having been in one. (I believe I was told that McQueen had Sydenham relatives. I’ll resist the temptation to say how miraculous and oracular this must have been.)
Enough. The sections of Addington in memory were very large, and so were the garden plots. My own great-grandfather on my father’s side, Cornelius O’Connor, arrived in New Zealand in 1860, embarking from Cork sometime earlier I suppose. His wife-to-be, Bridget, did likewise in 1862. Their first son (my grandfather, known as Ted) being born in Addington in 1865. Which gives a time frame.
The three tiny wooden cottages Cornelius in family legend built (in fact, bought as spec houses) were each close to the street, but had reasonable sections behind, and behind those again a large paddock which spread much further back. A horse was kept there, I’m told, a cow and chickens and vegetables (if one can “keep” vegetables). The comparatively smaller section immediately behind the main family cottage was for flowers (lily of the valley mainly) and for asparagus, a shed etc, and for a block on which my great-grandfather chopped off the heads of chickens. (“Why the fuss? I’ll not be long over ye,“ he observed, reportedly to my grandmother’s girlish delight.) The neighbours’ sections, and grandmothers, were similarly proportioned.
There was also a long washing line on which my father (when his time came) tortured cats when the mood took him. You can read all about it in “Painting the Wooden Butterfly” in my collection A Particular Context (1999). That’s Bridget (great-grandmother) on the cover standing in front of the main family cottage in Harman St, circa 1880 – where the sign for the Cornelius O’Connor Reserve now stands.
The point, of course, is not mainly to correct McQueen on a critically unimportant matter, nor to push a book that is already out of print – but to suggest that things were not always NZ Idol and McDonald’s (though I’m told those under 30 believe this unquestioningly).