Blog Archives

One of us, David Groves

Karl Wolfskehl: A Poet In Exile
Friedrich Voit
Cold Hub Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473476694

We have many short accounts in English of aspects of the life, character and writings of Karl Wolfskehl. Friedrich Voit now gives us a biography, in the set of three books published by Cold Hub Press, the first being Andrew Paul Wood’s translation of a selection of Wolfskehl’s poems in the bilingual edition Drei Welten/Three Worlds (reviewed in NZRB Summer 2016) and the second Poetry And Exile, a selection of letters splendidly translated and edited by Nelson Wattie.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction, 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

Radical carrot, upside down parrot, Gregory O’Brien

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys
Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler (eds)
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408930

Finding Frances Hodgkins
Mary Kisler
Massey University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9780995102972

You reach a certain age and your favourite artists and writers start invading your dreams. In one such reverie, I am strolling through Auckland Art Gallery’s “Frances Hodgkins; European Journeys” exhibition with the poet Peter Bland. An expatriate Englishman living here – a reverse-image of Hodgkins, you could say – Peter is a similarly divided or productively bifurcated person. In my dream, he hovers upside down in the antipodean gallery, like a diver frozen just before breaking the surface of the water, or a figure in a Chagall painting. He is relaxed and looks quizzically around, as if this is a perfectly natural way to be.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction, Review

Searching for the whole truth, Bill Hastings 

Shirley Smith: An Examined Life
Sarah Gaitanos
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776562176

In Wellington, it is difficult to find a lawyer, judge, or even a member of the Mongrel Mob of a certain age, who does not have a Shirley Smith story. The stories are good and bad. Many are insignificant, but they offer insight into her character. I was told about her understandable hostility to a junior lawyer, who was sent to the Smith house in Brooklyn to retrieve and organise some of her husband Bill Sutch’s papers. Smith stuck to her like lichen each day for a fortnight while she did her job and never offered her a cup of tea. I was told that Smith struck up conversations with people she did not know, who had come to visit their own relatives at the rest home in which she lived at the end of her life. One of these people told me about her delight at meeting a friendly, highly intelligent old lady, who said she studied the classics at Oxford University. Those who attended her funeral at St Andrew’s still talk about the powerful haka that echoed up and down the Terrace.

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Unpleasant truths, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins

Theo Schoon: A Biography
Damian Skinner
Massey University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780995100176

Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love
Joanne Drayton
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781988531267

There has long been an uneasiness on the part of local biographers when it comes to homosexual subjects. In literary terms, this can be traced to Michael King’s Frank Sargeson: A Life (1995), the first major biography of this type. King, then not yet a literary biographer, but a consummate researcher of Māori subject matter, demonstrated the standard Kiwi male’s distaste for homosexuality. The result was a tepid and unsatisfying work that has done Sargeson’s cultural longevity no favours. Without any active influential queer voice to argue the contrary, Sargeson entered the canon of modern biography, and King was lauded as the nation’s literary biographer.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Making it and making it up, C K Stead

Life as a Novel – A Biography of Maurice Shadbolt, Volume I, 1932-1973
Philip Temple
David Ling, $45.00,
ISBN 9781927305447

Recently, I have been writing an autobiography and consequently hunting out old letters. One I found, written to Kay from London in 1984, told her about getting started on a new novel, the one that would be called The Death of the Body: 

4½ pages written. I’m away – a start. Probably now I won’t run into trouble for 40 or 50 or with a bit of luck 60 pages. We’ll see. What a strange and dangerous business it is, writing fiction. So much investment of self in a leaking ship. No wonder Shadbolt goes around the bend with the effort. I ought to have been kinder to him. I have been a merciless sibling rival (even if it’s true he’s not much of a writer).

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A singular genius, Andrew Wood

Colours of a Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid
Anna Cahill
Mary Egan Publishing, $80.00,
ISBN 9780473423834

Over the decades, New Zealand has lost a tragic amount of cultural talent overseas for many reasons: the old bashing machine drives them away, cultural cringe makes the appeal of Europe and North America irresistible, or politics, or unconventional sexuality. Some have gone on to become very famous indeed – Frances Hodgkins and Katherine Mansfield, for example. The phenomenon is even responsible for an entire genre of New Zealand literature, resulting in several novels and biographies and biographical sketches by James McNeish, and Martin Edmond’s excellent The Expatriates. Anna Cahill’s Colours of Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid is a wonderful addition to that body of work.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction

Private life and public record, Kate Hannah

The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell
Diana Brown
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531304

Perhaps some are surprised that a scientist whose impact on New Zealand’s health, particularly the health of women and children, could have been, up until now, overlooked – but even this well-written, timely biography reveals much about how women’s lives and careers in the past are hidden from view.

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Posted in Biography, Health, Non-fiction, Review

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, Review

Radiant living: a hero rediscovered, Julia Millen

Edmund Hillary: A Biography
Michael Gill
Potton and Burton, $60.00,
ISBN 9780947503383

 

1953: Edmund Hillary, Everest conqueror (with Tenzing Norgay), is knighted by newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II. From the time he climbed his first peak in the Southern Alps, it had taken 13 years of steep uphill slog to become a world hero.

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