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Playing at home, John McCrystal

Pearly Gates: A Novel
Owen Marshall
Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9780143773153

“Pride goeth before a fall”, so the proverb runs, “and an haughty spirit before destruction”. The prideful one in Owen Marshall’s latest novel is Pat Gates, universally known as “Pearly”. He’s happily married, with two grown-up children, one of whom has made a notable success of her life. He’s a former representative rugby player – he had a few seasons for Otago and might well have gone on to higher honours still, had injury not intervened. He’s co-proprietor of a moderately successful real estate agency. And he’s mayor of a medium-sized provincial town that closely resembles Marshall’s home town of Timaru, on his second term when we meet him and looking quite likely to be re-elected for a third. His private interests dovetail comfortably with his public ambitions: his public profile is good for business, and his prosperity in business is a drawcard for voters. “You’re doing all right, Pearly”, as he says in one of his regular conversations with himself.

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Human error, Stephanie Johnson

A Mistake
Carl Shuker
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776562145

Carl Shuker is a writer who is not afraid to take risks. His previous four novels were all hailed for their innovation in form and espousal of post-modernism. He is, as far as any definition of genre can be trusted, a truly literary writer.

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A complicated relationship, Thom Conroy

The Ice Shelf
Anne Kennedy
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776562015

What role does a book invite me to accept as its reader? I need not comply with a book’s request, of course, but I’m bound to recognise or, at the very least, consider the question when beginning a review. Never an advocate of unnecessary terminology, the critic Wayne Booth used the term “friendship” to describe this relationship between what a book asks of us as readers and our response to that request. Anne Kennedy’s latest novel, The Ice Shelf, makes some strenuous demands on its readers and promises an intense – if intensely muddled – friendship in return.

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“Lashings of empathy”, Tina Shaw

From the Ashes
Deborah Challinor
HarperCollins, $37.00,
ISBN 9781460754122

What You Wish For
Catherine Robertson
Black Swan, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143772811

Discovering that From the Ashes is a sequel to Fire, Challinor’s 2006 novel, makes sense of this novel’s title. Fire was set in Auckland, although based on the Ballantyne’s department store fire of 1947 in Christchurch. From the Ashes is the second book in a series called “The Restless Years” that will take readers up to the Vietnam War.

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Where perspectives collide, John McCrystal 

The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke
Tina Makereti
Vintage, $38.00, ISBN 9780143771562

You don’t have to be a good old-fashioned structuralist to look into the patterns of history and see the tectonic grind of ideas reflected in the rippling of the surface, in the lives of individuals. It has seldom been enough for an emperor to appeal to might alone for the justification of hegemony. In practically every instance, a grand idea has been vaunted as the basis for the moral authority to rule. The wane of empires has usually been accompanied by a shift in philosophy, but not necessarily cleanly, completely, or all at once.

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Giving them what they want, Linda Burgess

Donato and the Cartege Blade
Fiona Jordan
Mary Egan Publishing, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473437367

1918: Broken Poppies Des Hunt, Scholastic, $19.00,

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot Suzanne Main, Scholastic, $17.00,

Dawn Raid Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic, $18.00,

Unlike the other books reviewed, Fiona Jordan’s Donata and the Cartege Blade is not set in a current or historical New Zealand. Its setting is recognisable, though. Time – Middle Ages, round about: place – fantasy land. This means there are monasteries, cloaked monks, ruined abbeys, looming mountains, ancient castles with dark passages, attempted assassinations and more than a hint of issues to do with identity. Indeed, quite early on in the novel, the protagonist learns he is no ordinary boy. He is the child of important parents, and who they are is one of the main threads running through the story. As a baby, it became clear that he was at risk of being murdered, so he was deftly swapped with another baby. Which was rather unfortunate for the replacement baby, for whom the swap turned out to be fatal.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Sport and sexuality, Bill Hastings

Broken Play
Nicholas Sheppard
RSVP, $35.00, ISBN 9780994140814

Grant Robertson, our minister of finance, has a picture in his office of a rugby team called the Krazy Knights. The photo was taken 20 years ago. He is in it. All of the young men in the picture are smiling, a bit sweaty, and glowing with physical exertion. They are happy brothers-in-arms, enjoying the camaraderie of a match well played. All but two are gay.

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Back in the day, Chris Else

Tane’s War Brendaniel Weir, Cloud Ink Press, $30.00

Gone to Pegasus Tess Redgrave, Submarine, $35.00

Rotoroa Amy Head, Victoria University Press, $30.00,

Over the last ten years or so, the number of established New Zealand publishers bringing out local fiction has shrunk to less than a handful, while the annual output of eager talent from our creative writing schools has continued apace. As a result, there have been a lot of manuscripts out there struggling to reach a readership. Gradually, solutions have been found; literary ambition, like love, inevitably finds a way, resorting to such outlets as self-publishing, collectives and small one- or two-person companies.

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Fathoms deep, James Robins

The New Ships
Kate Duignan
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561889

It’s a deeply distressing thing to find the word “bugger” on the first page of a New Zealand writer’s novel. Rather like opening some French fiction to discover “sacré bleu!” taunting you. The instant, visceral fear is of cliché and kitsch, that grating Kiwi patois so maladapted to literature. Or, worse, calling to mind that old television ad of the grimy sheepdog grunting the word from the back of a ute.

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Writing in circles, Kate Duignan

Caroline’s Bikini
Kirsty Gunn
Faber and Faber, $33.00,
ISBN 9780571339334

Caroline’s Bikini is a text written by Emily Stuart, in which she “takes dictation” from her oldest friend, Evan Gordonston, recently returned from the United States to London, and helplessly in love with his landlady, Caroline Beresford. Caroline is (the novel tells us so) Laura to Evan’s Petrarch, Beatrice to his Dante, Dorothea to his Will Ladislaw. There’s even a Casaubon, Caroline’s husband David, closeted away with his Greek and Latin texts. 

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