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Streets, waters, winds, Kirsty Gunn

A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888 – 1903
Redmer Yska
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522544

“There is a handful of writers” begins Vincent O’Sullivan’s introduction to a rare and illuminating account of the city in which Katherine Mansfield was born and grew up,

who at times seem to hold their admirers almost as much by the enigma of personality, or the curious weave of their lives, as they do by their first and sustained impact as writers … Each time we go back to a favourite story … there is that teasing urge to know what came before

In a few elegant sentences we have outlined for us a literary study of riveting depth and focus that, in drawing together history, biography, lyrical essay and reportage gives us back, in deeper colours, the life and work of one of those whose story we continue to be drawn towards, who takes her place amongst the world’s key modernists, a leading practitioner of the short story form, and here, too, a young New Zealand girl.

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“Loneliness was his condition”, Owen Marshall

Notes From the Margins: The West Coast’s Peter Hooper
Pat White
Frontiers Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473380663

A journey is a kind of endless forgetting. The boys lived only in the present, seeking a river crossing, probing a thorny thicket for the easiest passage, cooking a meal, hearing the night bird in the silence of the hills.

A Song in the Forest

The South Island’s West Coast features prominently in New Zealand literature, its swashbuckling history and impressive natural environment providing many advantages of setting. Charlotte Randall, Eleanor Catton, Jenny Pattrick and Amy Head are among those who have produced quality fiction associated with the region. Its perceived society and culture, however, are not those that would seem to foster a literary disposition among people who live there, yet Keri Hulme, Mervyn Thompson, Bill Pearson, Toss Woollaston and Philip May represent those with such ties. None has been more closely associated with the Coast than Peter Hooper (1919–1991), the subject of this biography.

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Nosing out the story, Lawrence Patchett

Breaking Ranks: Three Interrupted Lives
James McNeish
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775540908

Partway through Breaking Ranks: Three Interrupted Lives, James McNeish stops his narrative to admit his own bias. “At this point,” he writes, “I had better come clean and declare my own interest.” His declaration relates to his account of Peter Mahon, the judge who led the inquiry into the 1979 Erebus disaster. Yet it applies to his approach to the other figures of Breaking Ranks, too: the psychiatrist John Saxby and the decorated soldier Reginald Miles.

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The long and the short of it, Jock Phillips

A Peculiar Gentleman: George Rusden – A Life 
John O’Leary
Australian Scholarly, $50.00,
ISBN 9781925333404

The World, the Flesh and the Devil: The Life and Opinions of Samuel Marsden in England and the Antipodes, 1765-1838
Andrew Sharp
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408121

There are many similarities between these two books. Both are biographies, both are well-written, intelligent works, and both treat subjects with unusual ideas about race relations. More significantly, both books concern men, Samuel Marsden, missionary, and George Rusden, historian, who were English-born, but spent much of their lives near Sydney (before Rusden moved to Melbourne), and then achieved their greatest fame and influence through an involvement with New Zealand.

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Devouring the monster within, Jon Johansson

Crossing the Floor: The Story of Tariana Turia Helen Leahy Huia, $45.00, ISBN 9781775501633 In Helen Leahy’s Crossing the Floor: The Story of Tariana Turia, a tale is told about Tūtaeporoporo, a taniwha taking the form of a shark. Tūtaeporoporo

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Undesirables and worthies, John O’Leary

The Girl Who Stole Stockings: The True Story of Susannah Noon and the Women of the Convict Ship Friends Elsbeth Hardie Australian Teachers of Media, $40.00, ISBN 9781876467241 May Your Shadow Never Grow Less: The Life and Times of Henry

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Dazzling, dizzying cornucopias Stella Ramage

Marcus King: Painting New Zealand for the World
Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney
Potton & Burton, $80.00,
ISBN 9781927213704

Vivid: The Paul Hartigan Story
Don Abbott
RF Books, $65.00,
ISBN 9780473337117

Marcus King and Paul Hartigan belong to that interesting group of New Zealand artists who have successfully combined personal fine art careers with employment as commercial graphic designers and advertising illustrators. At various points in their careers, Russell Clark, Ralph Miller, Graham Percy, Milan Mrkusich, Dick Frizzell and doubtless many others have also juggled day jobs and private artistic practice. With the exception of Mrkusich and Frizzell, these artists have often been relegated to the margins of our national canon (hence the flurry of monographs in recent years intent on reclaiming their artistic legacy from oblivion). Are they suspected of lacking the passionate commitment of the “true” modernist artist: the torment of McCahon, the dedication of Angus, the activism of Hotere or the self-destructiveness of Fomison? The authors of these monographs firmly reject such Byronic assumptions, arguing effectively for a broader, more inclusive version of our national art history that acknowledges commercial art as a valid contribution to our visual culture.

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Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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Air-brushed, Nicholas Reid

Helen Clark: Inside Stories
Claudia Pond Eyley and Dan Salmon (eds)
Auckland University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 978186940 8381

She led the parliamentary Labour Party for 15 years and served for nine years as New Zealand’s first elected woman prime minister. She is clearly a person of formidable intelligence, steely determination, and a strong sense of her social objectives. On the New Zealand scene, she was always a canny political operator who knew how to manoeuvre her way through challenges from both outside and inside her own party. (You don’t get re-elected three times as prime minister without having these skills.)

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Hero worship, Gyles Beckford

A Few Hares to Chase: The Life and Economics of Bill Phillips
Alan Bollard
Auckland University Press, $40.00
ISBN 9781869408299

The sages have long counselled that you should never meet your heroes. Should that be extended to writing about them? Alan Bollard has indulged his hero worship in this hagiography of the largely unknown, outside of economic circles, Bill Phillips. “You don’t meet geniuses many times in your life,” Bollard said in a recent RNZ National interview.

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