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Darkening and deepening, Catherine Robertson

Through the Lonesome Dark
Paddy Richardson
Upstart Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927262986

Paddy Richardson takes a risk with her latest novel. By setting it in Blackball, a mining town on the West Coast in the early 1900s, she raises expectations of another Denniston Rose, and for well over 100 pages, readers could be forgiven for believing that they are reading a similar tale of a spirited young woman in trying circumstances. 

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An account of trauma, Michael Hulse

Allen Curnow: Collected Poems
Elizabeth Caffin and Terry Sturm (eds)
Auckland University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781869408510

Allen Curnow’s poetry is a transcript of trauma. “Morning by morning incorruption / Puts on corruption”: this most fundamental of thoughts, borne in upon every one of us as the time of our lives moves from childhood to what we call understanding, and onward, is not Curnow’s alone. The experiences of mutability, transience, and destruction, are universal. “A child returned / Discerns in quicksand his own footprint / Brimming and fading, vanishing.” The evidence that whatever begins in joy, hope and openness is swept away in the indifferent whirlwind lies before us everywhere. Time with a gift of tears. 

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Consecrating Curnow, Simon During

Allen Curnow: Simply by Sailing in a New Direction
Terry Sturm (Linda Cassells (ed))
Auckland University Press, $70.00,
ISBN 9781869408527,

Allen Curnow’s first book, Valley of Decision, appeared as a “Phoenix Miscellany” under the Auckland University College Students’ Association Press imprint when he was very young, just 22. But Curnow’s abiding concerns were already in place.

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Posted in Biography, Literature, Non-fiction and Review

Lies, damned lies, and fiction, Mark Broatch

False River
Paula Morris
Penguin, $35.00
ISBN 9780143771630

A couple of years ago I asked English essayist and novelist Geoff Dyer if he thought a man he and his wife picked up while driving through a desert in the United States of America was a serious criminal. In the story, White Sands, a sign warned drivers not to stop for hitchhikers because of prisons nearby. They did, instantly regretted it, and had to drive off at a gas station to get rid of him. Dyer wasn’t willing to confirm that they really did pick up a hitchhiker. “Is it fiction, is it a story? If so, at what point does it become fiction? If it is fiction, why isn’t it behaving like we expect stories to behave?”

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Knowing one another, Maggie Trapp

The Beat of the Pendulum: A Found Novel
Catherine Chidgey
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561704

 

Tess
Kirsten McDougall
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561001

Gabriel’s Bay
Catherine Robertson
Black Swan, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771456

Imaginative writing takes the hurly-burly of life and boils it down to something at once contained and capacious, and stories – whether real or imagined – allow us to see and feel lives other than our own. In their new novels, Catherine Chidgey, Kirsten McDougall, and Catherine Robertson present compelling, intimate accounts of New Zealanders. These works are about ostensibly everyday lives. Yet these ordinary characters reveal the extraordinary that we all live within. These stories, each in its own way, speak to our need for story. 

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Imagined pasts, alternative futures, Craig Cliff

The Necessary Angel
C K Stead
Allen and Unwin, $37.00,
ISBN 9781760631529

Salt Picnic
Patrick Evans
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561698

Our Future is in the Air
Tim Corballis
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561179

When a white male editor commissions another white male to review three novels, all written by white males, in late 2017, after the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the rise of #MeToo, the white male reviewer must be forgiven for thinking about absent voices, privilege and power dynamics while reading the assigned books. Stale, male and pale – that’s what cynics might say. Male and pale are hard to dispute when it comes to Stead, Evans and Corballis, but stale? That’s the crux, isn’t it? Are these books vital enough to warrant the bandwidth we might devote to them? What do they have to say that hasn’t been said before?

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A swarm of poets, Airini Beautrais 

Manifesto Aotearoa: 101 Political Poems
Philip Temple and Emma Neale (eds)
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947522469

 

New Zealand poetry in English has a long and complex tradition of politically-charged work: from colonial balladeers, through 20th-century heavyweights like Allen Curnow (as himself and as Whim Wham) and James K Baxter, to more recent poets including Bill Sewell, Robert Sullivan, Dinah Hawken and Hinemoana Baker. Despite this tradition, and perhaps in line with a neo-liberal mood-shift towards individualism and consumerism, an attitude has existed in recent years that there isn’t much political content in our poetry, or that it doesn’t belong there. Sullivan, in his 2010 sequence Cassino: City of Martyrs, bluntly calls such an attitude out in the lines “New Zealand / and its official status quo disdain / for political verse as if it was anything but.” Appearing against this historical and contemporary backdrop, Philip Temple’s and Emma Neale’s Manifesto anthology is a timely and welcome project.

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The wisdom of things, Anna Smaill

The Yield
Sue Wootton
Otago University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780947522483

The Internet of Things
Kate Camp
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561063

There is beauty to be had in yielding, Sue Wootton’s collection suggests, both to the natural world and to language. The collection’s title comes from its final poem, a quiet ode to an apple tree. Resurrected from its first life as a “dehydrated sapling”, the tree has thrived against the odds. Evidence of its battle remains in its posture; the sapling has developed

a lean, the whole tree on an angle,
as if surrendering in deference
to persistent pressure, as if leaned
upon,
giving in or giving up to what
prevails

 

The poem ultimately suggests that, rather than resignation, the tree’s lean is a mode of enabling sacrifice: it “let[s] go” in order to “put out arms, become a fruitful crux”. In conserving its energy the tree enables a different kind of yield – the crop of “yellow apples, blushed, /…Tart and crisp, delicious.”

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Beyond the pale, Kathryn Walls

Heloise
Mandy Hager
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770992

Heloise is Mandy Hager’s reconstruction in novelistic terms of the lives of the 12th-century lovers Heloise and Abelard, told from Heloise’s point of view. While both Abelard and Heloise read a great deal, neither of them had ever read a novel. They had, no doubt, read Augustine’s Confessions, an autobiography as distant in time from the 12th century as the 12th century is from our own. But Augustine saw no point in the concrete realisation of experience that characterises most novels. Unlike Hager, he does not mention things like the off-putting “flatulence, coughs and wheezing snores” of the convent dormitory, or the impression made on him by “streams of fish gut and animal entrails that [ran] down to meet the river”, or where the privy was. His subject was his psyche as a model for the reader’s. Being an African, he might have been black, but his skin colour remains a mystery. And yet, Hager, whose novel is rich in evocations of earthy reality, is not genuinely concerned with “the medieval body” (although the subject is currently being done to death by academics). Indeed, she has followed in the steps of Augustine (in this respect, at least, as so many great novelists have done) by focusing on the trajectory of her subject’s inner life. Paradoxically, while she has sought to establish authenticity by appealing to our senses, the effect here is decorative. What is truly authentic about her novel is quite different. Hager has, impressively, studied a wealth of primary and secondary texts in order to reconstruct Heloise’s mental and emotional development.

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Jewels and binoculars, Murray Bramwell

Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems 1963–2016
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Canterbury University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781927145883

Dylan Junkie
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Mākaro Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780994137807

It is a harsh fact that we live in a world where there is far more published poetry than people willing or able to read it. Over the past 50 years, poetry has ceased to be a common currency. It is less often a core component of literary studies in either high-school or university curricula. For most people, poetry has become esoteric and increasingly formidable. Few nowadays have ever read more than a handful of poems, let alone committed lines to memory. There are many reasons for this. A significant one is that since the 1960s some of the best poetry has gone to live in Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”; the canon is now plugged into the body electric. Of course, lyrics still matter for people, but only when encased in melody and beats.

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