Blog Archives

Leading by the nose, Elizabeth Crayford

Scented
Laurence Fearnley
Penguin, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143773283

If technology and price allowed, Scented would have made a fantastic “scratch and sniff” novel. As it is, the pitfalls of first-person narration make this a challenging read, and I finished the book still not knowing how well the central character knew herself. But I also wasn’t convinced that this was the author’s intention. By the end of the first section, I was pretty sure I was onto it: Fearnley had created a narrator at the high-functioning end of the Asperger’s spectrum. She can hold down a well-paying academic job in a New Zealand university, but her struggles with intimacy and relationships are compensated for by a single and all-consuming passion for perfume.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Best of all possible worlds? Stephen Levine

Promises Promises: 80 Years Of Wooing New Zealand Voters
Claire Robinson
Massey University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780995109544

When Jacinda Ardern stated in 2017 that, if elected, Labour would move to “abolish child poverty”, this resonated as an ambitious goal, enlightened, compassionate and long overdue. It is among the many strengths of Claire Robinson’s book that we are able, with perspective (and evidence), to see that the first Labour government had accomplished this task – and more – over 70 years earlier.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review

Opening the fifth dimension, Lydia Wevers

Science Fiction: A Review Of Speculative Fiction: Special Double Issue Featuring Phillip Mann
(Vol 19, Nos 1-2)
Van Ikin (ed)
$AUD30.00
ISSN 03146677

A special double issue of a well-regarded journal, plus full-page authorial cover photo, is a handsome tribute to the work of any writer. Science Fiction has been running since 1977 and has featured the work of many Australian science fiction writers, but never before (as far as I know) a New Zealander. Phillip Mann’s New Zealandness is, however, a frequent topic of discussion.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

“The frequent flyer friar” John McCrystal

Nailing Down The Saint
Craig Cliff
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143773740

Those familiar with Craig Cliff’s work will know that he is fond of a kooky premise – a starting-off point that allows him to tread the blurred line between mundane realism and the surreal. Many of the stories in his debut collection, A Man Melting, caught the eye precisely because of the imaginative, offbeat conceit at their heart; his first novel, The Mannequin Makers, asked us to imagine a man so consumed by professional rivalry that he is prepared to sequester his own children away from the world and raise them for the sole purpose of masquerading as mannequins in a department store window.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Controversial still, John O’Leary

A Communist In The Family
Elspeth Sandys
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988531601

Families are complicated things. Members don’t necessarily agree with one another, or even like one another; relationships can be strained, or snapped, then re-made across the years. This is never truer than when one family member breaks ranks and does something out of the ordinary.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Absolutely fabulous, Thom Conroy

The Absolute Book
Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776562305

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox is a Ronsardian ode to worldbuilding. Who creates worlds? What connects them? Who controls them? These questions shape the novel’s plot, subject and theme over the 650 pages of Knox’s latest. In a work of this length, the opportunities for spoilers are legion. With that in mind, I’ll need to violate the usual prohibition against them in what follows, although I do pledge not to reveal major surprises from the last 300 pages. This genre-buster tells the story of Taryn Cornick of the Northovers (aka Valravn, Hero of Understanding) and her struggle to overcome demoniac possession and assist a demigod known as Shift (aka Little god of the marshlands, fate foresworn princeling) in recrafting realms of being while struggling to redeem her own imperiled soul.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Words and deeds, Helen Watson White

The Political Years
Marilyn Waring
Bridget Williams Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988545936

The cover of Marilyn Waring’s book The Political Years shows a telling photograph of the 1979 National Party caucus in the Beehive: row upon row of suited men, with just one young woman in front.

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Posted in Autobiography, 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

Bullies behind the screen, Jane Westaway

Whale Oil
Margie Thomson
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947503819

The authors of certain books published in this country deserve medals. Not literary prizes, although they might merit these, too. But I mean authors who devote themselves to uncovering connections and truths that would otherwise remain hidden, because those implicated have the power to hide their tracks and intimidate.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

A travelling life, Tony Mackle

Don’t Forget To Feed The Cat: The Travel Letters And Sketches Of Stewart Bell Maclennan
Mary Bell Thornton (ed)
The Cuba Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781988595009

This delightful and beautifully produced book is a worthwhile read on several levels. It is a warm, human account of family life, an interesting travel book, and provides an informed abbreviated account of some of the salient features of major international museums and their collections.

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Posted in Letters, Non-fiction, Review
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