Blog Archives

Byzantine complexity, Geoffrey Palmer

Democracy in New Zealand
Raymond Miller
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869408350

Democracy in New Zealand is a competent work by an experienced and well-published Professor of Politics at the University of Auckland. Clearly designed as a student text for an introductory course in politics in New Zealand universities, it reflects its author’s research interests in electoral systems, government formation and execution, political parties, interest groups, political representation and leadership. Miller’s more specialised comparative work with Ian Marsh, Democratic Decline and Democratic Renewal, was published in 2012.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

As if shadows could whisper, Emma Neale

Dear Neil Roberts
Airini Beautrais
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780864739735

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes
Chris Tse
Auckland University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869408183

Both collections under review here act as witness to politically charged historic events. One pivots on a suicide, one on a murder. Despite the way each book edges towards psychological release, the deaths of Joe Kum Yung and Neil Roberts unsettle still, as if shadows could whisper: “Listen: / there’s a hunger in the air. It’s reciting prophecies” (‘(Static, Spool)’, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes).

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

The fungibility of human longevity, Charlotte Paul

The Healthy Country?: A History of Life and Death in New Zealand
Alistair Woodward and Tony Blakely
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408138

Non-Māori New Zealanders lived longer than any other peoples on earth between 1876 and 1940. Figuring out why is the starting point for this fascinating and scholarly study. Of course, even this statement begs a question. These figures apply to only a segment, not the total population of New Zealand, yet the comparisons are generally with total populations of other countries. Nevertheless, the non-Māori life expectancy was far ahead, and this was the only data available until 1913 (when Māori deaths were first collected). Moreover, epidemiologists Woodward and Blakely are properly even-handed and comprehensive in investigating both Māori and non-Māori life expectancy from pre-contact until 2011.

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Posted in Health, History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

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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Posted in Essays, Media, Non-fiction and Review

Brave new worlds, Ian Lochhead

Vertical Living: The Architectural Centre and the Remaking of Wellington
Julia Gatley and Paul Walker
Auckland University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781869408152

The very notion of so rapid and wholesale a change to a city’s fabric … is a high-risk undertaking, not unlike performing open-heart surgery with a Kango hammer. The feverish uncoordinated fingers of the city’s many, self-appointed quacks have ripped out flesh and transplanted organs with almost total disregard for the patient’s ability to survive in any recognisable form. Not surprisingly, the city is bleeding – badly – with many of its inhabitants in deep, post-operative shock.

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Posted in Architecture, Non-fiction and Review

Delivery suite, Rae Varcoe

The Rise and Fall of National Women’s Hospital
Linda Bryder
Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408091

Many readers will be familiar with the furore which arose when Linda Bryder‘s A History of the ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ at National Women’s Hospital (2009) concluded that Herb Green’s management of pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix was not an experiment and that Dame Sylvia Cartwright was in error. Bryder’s view was that Green’s non-interventional management of such cervical abnormalities was in line with that of other academic units overseas and, as the patients were not randomised, but treated on a case-by-case basis, the treatment was not experimental. This continues to be an area of vigorous debate (see letters in the New Zealand Listener for 19 and 26 April 2014). The Cartwright Enquiry book was a diversion from the research and construction of this comprehensive history of National Women’s Hospital for which Bryder received a Marsden Fund grant in 2003.

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Posted in Health, History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Chronicling the near present, Joe Atkinson

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945
Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869407827

Whoever coined the title for this new history of New Zealand’s recent past clearly did not want to give anything away. It is hard to think of a blander, less committal title than Changing Times. Isn’t all history about changing times? Such a title might be taken to reflect our populist and relativist age where conclusiveness or the attribution of historical progression are widely considered to be culturally insensitive. Can history be written in such an age?

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Phrases that catch the breath, Mark Houlahan

Heartland
Michele Leggott
Auckland University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781869408084

In 2007, Leggott was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate; in England, there is a long tradition of poets laureate being crowned at the point in their careers where the muse has long since abandoned them. Not so Leggott. If the point of such an award is not just to honour a writer, but for them to show leadership simply by going about and being a poet, writing back to the world, then Leggott is still the real deal. This is evident throughout Heartland.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Personal freight, Elizabeth Crayford

Wild Like Me
Elizabeth Nannestad
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780864738813

One Human in Height
Rachel O’Neill
Hue and Cry Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473257569

Other Animals
Therese Lloyd
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780864738820

Dark Sparring
Selina Tusitala Marsh
Auckland University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781869407865

Wild Like Me is Elizabeth Nannestad’s third book, published after a 17-year hiatus. If He’s a Good Dog He’ll Swim appeared in 1996, and Jump was joint winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry in 1986. Born in Auckland in 1956, Nannestad, according to the cover notes, “worked as a forensic psychiatrist, then became a homeschooling mother. Now redundant.” This book charts the territory of the empty nest, an intensely felt rite of passage that alternates between grief and a new-won freedom. Thus, in “That Creepy Old Woman Over There”, the protagonist longs for the touch of “a warm hand”, but more than anything else she longs for “my one child near”. Meticulously observed flowers, insects, birds and domestic animals become metaphors for transience, loss and the departed child; the absent butterflies in the first poem, whose beauty went unremarked, leave “only the flinty sunlight / it’s colder, the lavender is plainer: they’re gone.” In “A Woman Walking”, migratory birds “wind-ruffled, feeding, edge away and cry weep weep.” Hand in hand with mourning these absences is the sometimes terrified glance into the future, as in the aptly titled “One Good Reason to Keep a Cat”, which imagines “some smelly old woman / living alone in a small cheap flat.”

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Dear familiars, Helen Curran

Creature Comforts: New Zealanders and their Pets: An Illustrated History Nancy Swarbrick Otago University Press, $55.00, ISBN 9781877578618 A New Zealand Book of Beasts: Animals in our Culture, History and Everyday Life Annie Potts, Philip Armstrong, Deidre Brown Auckland University

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Posted in History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology
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