Blog Archives

Leading by the nose, Elizabeth Crayford

Scented
Laurence Fearnley
Penguin, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143773283

If technology and price allowed, Scented would have made a fantastic “scratch and sniff” novel. As it is, the pitfalls of first-person narration make this a challenging read, and I finished the book still not knowing how well the central character knew herself. But I also wasn’t convinced that this was the author’s intention. By the end of the first section, I was pretty sure I was onto it: Fearnley had created a narrator at the high-functioning end of the Asperger’s spectrum. She can hold down a well-paying academic job in a New Zealand university, but her struggles with intimacy and relationships are compensated for by a single and all-consuming passion for perfume.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Opening the fifth dimension, Lydia Wevers

Science Fiction: A Review Of Speculative Fiction: Special Double Issue Featuring Phillip Mann
(Vol 19, Nos 1-2)
Van Ikin (ed)
$AUD30.00
ISSN 03146677

A special double issue of a well-regarded journal, plus full-page authorial cover photo, is a handsome tribute to the work of any writer. Science Fiction has been running since 1977 and has featured the work of many Australian science fiction writers, but never before (as far as I know) a New Zealander. Phillip Mann’s New Zealandness is, however, a frequent topic of discussion.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

“The frequent flyer friar” John McCrystal

Nailing Down The Saint
Craig Cliff
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143773740

Those familiar with Craig Cliff’s work will know that he is fond of a kooky premise – a starting-off point that allows him to tread the blurred line between mundane realism and the surreal. Many of the stories in his debut collection, A Man Melting, caught the eye precisely because of the imaginative, offbeat conceit at their heart; his first novel, The Mannequin Makers, asked us to imagine a man so consumed by professional rivalry that he is prepared to sequester his own children away from the world and raise them for the sole purpose of masquerading as mannequins in a department store window.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Absolutely fabulous, Thom Conroy

The Absolute Book
Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776562305

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox is a Ronsardian ode to worldbuilding. Who creates worlds? What connects them? Who controls them? These questions shape the novel’s plot, subject and theme over the 650 pages of Knox’s latest. In a work of this length, the opportunities for spoilers are legion. With that in mind, I’ll need to violate the usual prohibition against them in what follows, although I do pledge not to reveal major surprises from the last 300 pages. This genre-buster tells the story of Taryn Cornick of the Northovers (aka Valravn, Hero of Understanding) and her struggle to overcome demoniac possession and assist a demigod known as Shift (aka Little god of the marshlands, fate foresworn princeling) in recrafting realms of being while struggling to redeem her own imperiled soul.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

The life and the work, Martin Edmond

In Fifteen Minutes You Can Say A Lot: Selected Fiction
Greville Texidor, (Kendrick Smithyman ed)
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776562268

All The Juicy Pastures: Greville Texidor And New Zealand
Margot Schwass
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776562251

In April 1970 I moved, with two other 18-year-olds, into a house at 6 Margaret Street, Ponsonby. One of us, Andrew McCartney, met a woman called Rosa and subsequently we were invited around to her place, in nearby St Mary’s Bay, to meet her father, Werner. That visit initiated a series of Tuesday night meetings during which we would sit on the floor in the front room, literally at his feet, while Werner, from an armchair in the corner, instructed us in the principles of anarchism and the methods of resistance and activism we should, as students, be using to make changes in what was then still called society. This was Werner Droescher, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, the third husband of Rosamunda’s mother, the writer Greville Texidor, who also fought in that war.

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Posted in Biography, Fiction, Literature, Non-fiction, Review

“The play’s the thing”, Sarah Ross

Ngaio Marsh’s Hamlet: The 1943 Production Script
Polly Hoskins (ed)
Canterbury University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781988503134

In August 1943, as New Zealand troops in Europe began the Italian campaign, the Canterbury University College Drama Society (CUCDS) performed Hamlet to sell-out audiences at the Canterbury College Little Theatre. Hamlet had not been seen in New Zealand “for a generation”, and it was a roaring success: students were straddling the beams in the rafters, and CUCDS was reproached by the City Council for overfilling the space. The acclaimed season was produced and directed by Ngaio Marsh, the celebrated crime novelist who went on to direct several Shakespearean plays. Marsh embraced the war-time context for the production, featuring modern, military dress. Owing to its success, Hamlet returned for a second season at the Little Theatre, November–December 1943, after university exams were over for the year; and after CUCDS mounted a season of Othello in 1944, both productions toured nationally.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Plays, Review

In the hybrid zones, Airini Beautrais

How To Live
Helen Rickerby
Auckland University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869409050

Ransack
essa may ranapiri
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776562374

Conventional Weapons
Tracey Slaughter
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776562206

In a literary sense, genre is problematic. While it’s convenient to categorise texts for the purposes of libraries, book awards and so on, drawing a line between poetry and fiction, fiction and non-fiction, or poetry and essay is evidently reductive and arguably somewhat pointless. Given that poetry and fiction stem from root words meaning “to make” and “to form”, historical distinctions have been primarily formal, linked to the emergence of these modes at different points in the history of writing. After 60-odd years of poetry being dominated by free verse, in which formal divisions are based on visual more than aural units, and given the perennial ubiquity of prose poetry (something of a dubious term itself), these distinctions appear narrower and less relevant.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

“Unlicked selves”, Hugh Roberts

Collected Poems
Fleur Adcock
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776562091

“Fleur Adcock is a New Zealand poet, editor and translator who resides in Britain” – so says, blandly, the inside back flap of the dust-jacket of Victoria University Press’s imposing new Collected Poems. There’s a long, complicated history – one whose sometimes painful struggles are at times suppressed in and at others directly addressed by Adcock’s poetry – lying behind that apparently matter-of-fact description.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Timeless and timely, Hannah Marshall

Winter Of Fire (25th Anniversary Edition)
Sherryl Jordan
Scholastic, $19.00,
ISBN 9781775435983

A dismal world where the sun has disappeared is the backdrop for Sherryl Jordan’s hard-hitting and powerful novel Winter Of Fire. Back in print 25 years after its initial publication, Winter Of Fire blends a strong, rebellious protagonist with the difficult themes of slavery, sexism and pollution, to create a powerhouse of a novel with ideas that still stand strong today.

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Posted in Imprints, Review, Young adults

Express lane, John Horrocks

Peat 
Lynn Jenner
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531694

Lynn Jenner lives on the Kāpiti Coast, not far from the new expressway between Mackays Crossing and Peka Peka. She writes in Peat that thinking about the construction of the road meant that she needed “the close company of a writer as a bulwark against its enacted power and concrete”. Charles Brasch, whose work she hardly knew before she started her project, was the chosen author. The resulting book is a marvellous and unexpected combination of the two topics.

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Posted in Literature, Non-fiction, Review
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