Letters – Issue 123

Aching absences

Dear Editors

I do hope readers of Vincent O Sullivan’s expansive and generously minded All This By Chance have a more nuanced appreciation of the novel’s pleasures than Ann Beaglehole’s dull summary, published in your Winter 2018 issue. 

I had been so looking forward to a review of the kind of fiction that is more than a New Zealand novel, somehow – by which I mean it having rather more on its To Do List than yet a further going through and ticking off of one of the nation’s great stories or preoccupations or whatever. For those stories that can be both here and there, that might dive deeper into a larger past that takes in other memories, other lands, other ways of being that aren’t always simply and evenly measured by the familiar … . 

O’Sullivan’s fiction has always given us more than just a sum of our parts. This latest novel of his, a quietly magisterial account of a New Zealand family’s edging onto the dark Holocaust-inflected territory of WWII is, in its authoritative rendering of a New Zealand and a Europe, a present and a past, a reminder that our fiction might not just comprise definitions of self but work upon us in ways that are more like poetry, increasing and troubling and refiguring our fixed sensibilities to make us something else again. 

“Yet the words ‘Jew’ or ‘Holocaust’ are almost totally absent,” Beaglehole writes. Well, yes. And would that the aching absences present in this great novel sound louder in so much of contemporary New Zealand writing. O’Sullivan’s reticence is our education here. 

Kirsty Gunn

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