Blog Archives

Fifty years on, Spiro Zavos

The Team that Changed Rugby Forever: The 1967 All Blacks
Alex McKay
New Holland Publishers, $35.00,
ISBN 9781869664725

 

On the afternoon of the first test between New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions, the 1967 All Blacks held a reunion in the Barbarians room at Eden Park. The reunion marked 50 years from the team’s epic unbeaten tour of Britain and France. A photo was taken of the 11 survivors who could make the journey to Auckland. It is a poignant portrait of a famous group of the boys of winter in the winter of their years. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sport

Fascinating threesome, Rosemary Wildblood

Obsession
Elspeth Sandys
Upstart Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927262900

Set mostly in the 1980s, Elspeth Sandys’s Obsession explores the dynamics of a relationship fuelled by desire and driven by a symbiotic need for intimacy. The narrative is purportedly written by a third party – who bears the sobriquet of the Dally poet – in a manuscript we are told in the foreword was discovered after his death. For those who like to judge a book by its cover, its design features three pressed flowers on a parchment-coloured background bearing faint traces of script, with the same theme continued through to the back in a graphic depiction of its contents. Combined with creamy pages inside, it’s a handsome book to own and shelve.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

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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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Talking of war, Hugh Roberts 

Mulgan
Noel Shepherd
Steele Roberts,$25.00,
ISBN 9780947493387

Noel Shepherd’s debut novel, Mulgan, certainly doesn’t lack for moxie. Writing one’s way into one of the small handful of truly iconic New Zealand novels and, what’s more, openly setting out to imitate the tone, style and form of that novel, is not for the faint-hearted. One can applaud Shepherd’s ambition even if, ultimately, the novel itself must be seen as an interesting failure. There is, though, at least one way in which a parody or a pastiche or an homage is always interesting: it asks us to think about what really is the quintessence of the thing imitated; what is it that makes John Mulgan’s Man Alone still such a powerful read, even after so many years of stultifying “official” reverence and highbrow critical snark?

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Sustained fullness of feeling, Damian Love

Tell Me My Name
Bill Manhire
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561070

 

Some Things to Place in a Coffin
Bill Manhire
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561056

It is often a revealing act. To translate, to imitate, to inhabit in some way a distant genre, is to offer a unique window. We have a glimpse of what the author is drawn to, but also how he differs from it, what he brings to a tradition and what it brings to him, what he takes from it and what he does not.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

More than just the usual, Flora Fan

Pieces of You  Eileen Merriman Penguin Random House, $20.00, ISBN 9780143770473   Pieces of You is a typical YA coming-of-age novel that surprisingly offers more than a cliché. Not least, it is uniquely set in the familiar setting of Auckland.

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Posted in Literature, Review and Young adults

The thrills of genre-literacy, David Larsen

The New Animals
Pip Adam
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561162

Pip Adam’s second novel is bewildering. I say this as praise, though also as fair warning.

On page one we meet Carla, who has stopped on her way somewhere to buy a cup of tea. She is not enjoying the experience:

The whole of St Kevin’s Arcade was awful now … it was clean and the café down the end of the arcade served ricotta doughnuts to men in suits and she couldn’t stand it. She’d lived in Auckland for 43 years and it still wasn’t finished. Nothing stayed in place.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

The grimness of contemporary realism, John McCrystal

Five Strings
Apirana Taylor
Anahera Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473389482

Iceland
Dominic Hoey
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 978094749343I

It’s that time of the three-yearly cycle again. A billboard has gone up near my house promoting the political party that has, for the last couple of terms, been promising us a brighter future. It claims this party is “Delivering for New Zealanders” – which is true, so long as you don’t read it as a claim that it is delivering for all New Zealanders. And, as for the brighter future, well, there is a significant number of people in New Zealand for whom the future can only be brighter, given how bleak their present is.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

The play’s the thing, Mark Houlahan

Best Playwriting Book Ever
Roger Hall
Playmarket, $22.00,
ISBN 9780908607600

Shift
Alison Quigan, Vivienne Plumb and Lynda Chanwai-Earle
Playmarket, $35.00,
ISBN 9780908607617

Bats Plays
Ken Duncum and Rebecca Rodden
Playmarket, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776560899

To review Best Playwriting Book Ever, I broke the first rule of playwright club. In his prologue, Roger Hall advises: “To get the best out of this book, write a play (or as much as you can of one) before you read it.” I have never written a play, though I have been watching and performing plays on various stages for almost as long as people have been flocking to Hall’s plays, since his break-out hit, Glide Time (1976). He has now written 50 plays, alongside film scripts and TV series, so he has certainly earned the right to stake his claim in the title of this book. Ticket sales from Hall’s plays have helped fund so many of our theatres, and Hall himself has managed the still rare local feat of making a living as a playwright. He has told that story entertainingly in his autobiography, Bums on Seats (1998).

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Posted in Literature, Plays and Review

Courage, candour and bloody-mindedness, Frances Edmond

Playscripts
Victor Rodger: Black Faggot and Other Plays
Victoria University Press, $35.00
ISBN 9781776561032

“Life will always leave fiction for dead”: Victor Rodger, in the New Zealand Herald, summing up his life experience, thus far. Rodger’s upbringing is certainly uncommon – the stuff of fiction perhaps. The illegitimate son of a palagi teenage mother and an absent Samoan father, he grew up in “white” Christchurch in a Scottish born-again Christian family. His background is relevant in that he draws on it in many of his plays. His first, Sons, is a semi-autobiographical story of a young afakasi (half-caste) man in search of his origins and identity. In the same interview in the New Zealand Herald, Rodger says: “I can’t remember if I thanked him [his father] for my career because I’ve turned our fucked up relationship into an industry.” In contrast, Rodgers describes his mother as “all about love” and, indeed, in these plays the mother figures – Mama Letti in Black Faggot, Tahlz in Club Paradiso – are nurturing and forgiving, while the descriptions of dead Olivia in At the Wake are in similar vein.

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Posted in Literature, Plays and Review
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