Noel Shepherd’s debut novel, Mulgan, certainly doesn’t lack for moxie. Writing one’s way into one of the small handful of truly iconic New Zealand novels and, what’s more, openly setting out to imitate the tone, style and form of that novel, is not for the faint-hearted. One can applaud Shepherd’s ambition even if, ultimately, the novel itself must be seen as an interesting failure. There is, though, at least one way in which a parody or a pastiche or an homage is always interesting: it asks us to think about what really is the quintessence of the thing imitated; what is it that makes John Mulgan’s Man Alone still such a powerful read, even after so many years of stultifying “official” reverence and highbrow critical snark?
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