Unthawing, Hugh Roberts

Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945
John Newton
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561629

Telling the Real Story: Genre and New Zealand Literature
Erin Mercer
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560851

If there is a better book on New Zealand literature than John Newton’s Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945, I have not read it. Rarely, indeed, have I read a work of literary history in any field of its calibre. Wise, human, witty and compassionate, this is that rare – oh, too rare – book of literary scholarship one would unhesitatingly recommend to the non-specialist reader: to anyone interested in New Zealand literature, obviously, but anyone with an interest in New Zealand history, the history of modernism, cultural developments in the West in the mid-20th century, the history of feminism; the list could go on. I live in the United States and have already begun to enthusiastically recommend the book to friends who I know have barely heard of New Zealand and could not name a New Zealand author to save their lives. Wearing his impressive learning lightly, Newton has managed to find a critical voice that addresses the reader as an equal, acknowledges the possibility – the desirability, indeed – of alternative hypotheses, lays his own enthusiasms and biases on the table, and honours the complexity and integrity of the authors he discusses, even when he radically disagrees with them. If more literary critics could write in this way, one would be far more sanguine about the future of the profession.

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