Blog Archives

The unnerving detritus of what was, Jane Westaway

The Shops
Steve Braunias and Peter Black (photographer)
Luncheon Sausage Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780908689941

Once upon a time, I met people who owned a shop. I was young and impressionable and, on my first visit, was dazzled by a window display of ladies’ and gents’ watches, silverware and jewellery. The door pinged when you pushed it. Once inside, glass shelves and counters gleamed with promise, and the watchmaker’s wife stood behind the counter. It was a small place in a small town, but I was thrilled, not so much by what these people were offering for sale, as by the concept of shop-keeping itself.

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Downtown voices and sugar-rush diction, David Cohen

The Journal of Urgent Writing 2016 Nicola Legat (ed) Massey University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9780994130068 Tell You What 2017: Great New Zealand Nonfiction  Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood (eds) Auckland University Press, $30.00, ISBN 9781869408602 If I had to name

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Rethinking the past, Melissa Laing

Re-inventing New Zealand: Essays on the Arts and the Media  Roger Horrocks Atuanui Press, $45.00, ISBN 9780992245382 As I opened a blank document to begin this review, a tweet popped up in my feed from Morgan Godfery: “Sure,” Godfery writes

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Something that rises, Ingrid Horrocks

Can You Tolerate This?: Personal Essays Ashleigh Young Victoria University Press, $30.00, ISBN 9781776560769 The title of Wellington poet, blogger, and editor Ashleigh Young’s new collection is a challenge issued in somewhat the same spirit as the title of Hera

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Shining a transformative light, Sarah Quigley

Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey (eds) Victoria University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781776560707 At a time when much of Europe is preoccupied with redefining – and defending – boundaries, New Zealand is

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Still (regrettably) relevant, Ashleigh Young

Roll on the Revolution … But Not Till After Xmas!: Selected Feminist Writing Margot Roth Women’s Studies Association of Aotearoa New Zealand / Pae Akoranga Wāhine, $25.00, ISBN 9780473351748 Yesterday, I was idling on Facebook when I should have been

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Looking for home, David Cohen

Barefoot Years
Martin Edmond
Bridget Williams Books, $15.00,
ISBN 9781927277676

On Coming Home
Paula Morris
Bridget Williams Books, $15.00,
ISBN 9780908321117

Somewhere in the course of his perceptive career, in what one assumes was a more or less idle moment, George Orwell turned his attention to the question of whether purchasing cigarettes or literature leaves a larger hole in the average reader’s pocket. To this cobweb-hung dilemma, the English essayist devoted all the remorseless attention with which Marx went about weighing the merits of capitalism and socialism; although there the comparison must end, for Orwell surely never strung a gilded sentence together that would cause a reader mental pain on account of its construction. His tentative conclusion: reading is indeed better for one’s financial health. Workers of the world, unlight!

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Culture wars, ancient and modern, Hugh Roberts

The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971-2013
Wystan Curnow
Adam Art Gallery/Victoria University Press, $80.00,
ISBN 9780864739322

Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing
Murray Edmond
Atuanui Press, $44.00,
ISBN 9780992245368

The editors of The Critic’s Part tell us that Curnow’s prolific but scattered art-critical writings (reviews, catalogue copy, journalism, essays etc) together reveal the “arc, progression, and continuity of Curnow’s thinking” and deliver a “general, ‘big-picture’ account of New Zealand art”. If there is some truth to the first of these claims, the second cannot be said to bear much examination. Nonetheless, anyone interested in the history of New Zealand art in the late 20th century will be grateful to Christina Barton and Robert Leonard for making these pieces available.

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For us there is only the trying, Paul Morris 

Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-Fiction 2015
Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew (eds)
Auckland University Press, $30.00
ISBN 9781869408244

Greatest Hits: A Quarter Century of Journalistic Encounters and Notes from Lost Cities
David Cohen
Mākaro Press, $35.00
ISBN 9780994106544

In their introduction, editors Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew ask why “doesn’t New Zealand have its own equivalent of the Best American Essays or Best Australian Essays series?” Their selection of 29 “essays” is expressly designed to address this very real lacuna. As one who has long lamented the priority given to the New Zealand short story, the short poem, and the long novel over the essay, I had high expectations for this collection. What was it that I was anticipating? If not the wisdom of Montaigne, Hazlitt, Lamb, Orwell, James, Hunter S Thompson, Hughes, Baldwin, Epstein, Ozick, E B White or, more recently, Daum, Jamison, D’Ambrosio and Zadie Smith, then at least reflective first-person narratives about experience that deeply engage the reader, not as moral fable or advice, but as dialogue, a conversation that suggestively and subtly indicates some shared and significant experience and understanding. They should, of course, also be superbly written and entertaining.

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Digging and delving, Tim Corballis and Ingrid Horrocks

The Grass Catcher: A Digression About Home
Ian Wedde
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739384

The protagonist of the present-day portion of Symmes Hole (1986), Ian Wedde’s canonical and underread novel about settler colonialism, is obsessed with history. He digs and delves in it, but his tools are not always archival in nature. Early in the novel he gulps down an unnamed psychoactive agent that fuels a long hallucinatory reverie of Pacific history. Why the drug? It has its comic uses, of course, but its chief interest is to give history a paradoxical sense of reality, as if the events of the past could be brought right up close and visible by chemical means. The drug does not give its taker any certain, magical knowledge of history. In fact, quite the reverse: it allows rumours and legends into the story as well, and troubles the veracity of the whole picture. But it imbues the past with the glow of urgency. As such, it is one solution to a literary problem that is common, but not limited, to historical fiction: how to make done deeds, matters of dry historical record, leap across the gap that separates them from the pressing concerns of our lives now. In his altered state, Wedde’s researcher need not go looking for the past ‒ the past comes to him. The danger (and the source of much humour) is that it makes history meaningful at the expense of making the historian a dissociative, drug-addled lunatic whom no-one else would go near.

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