Blog Archives

Unthawing, Hugh Roberts

Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945
John Newton
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561629

Telling the Real Story: Genre and New Zealand Literature
Erin Mercer
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560851

If there is a better book on New Zealand literature than John Newton’s Hard Frost: Structures of Feeling in New Zealand Literature 1908-1945, I have not read it. Rarely, indeed, have I read a work of literary history in any field of its calibre. Wise, human, witty and compassionate, this is that rare – oh, too rare – book of literary scholarship one would unhesitatingly recommend to the non-specialist reader: to anyone interested in New Zealand literature, obviously, but anyone with an interest in New Zealand history, the history of modernism, cultural developments in the West in the mid-20th century, the history of feminism; the list could go on. I live in the United States and have already begun to enthusiastically recommend the book to friends who I know have barely heard of New Zealand and could not name a New Zealand author to save their lives. Wearing his impressive learning lightly, Newton has managed to find a critical voice that addresses the reader as an equal, acknowledges the possibility – the desirability, indeed – of alternative hypotheses, lays his own enthusiasms and biases on the table, and honours the complexity and integrity of the authors he discusses, even when he radically disagrees with them. If more literary critics could write in this way, one would be far more sanguine about the future of the profession.

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An anatomy of neoliberal angst, Hugh Roberts

Neoliberalism and Cultural Transition in New Zealand Literature, 1984-2008  Jennifer Lawn Lexington Books, $95.00, ISBN 9780739177419 The 1984 Labour government’s legacy has been a curious Rorschach test over the years. I can recall talking to my students in classes at

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Posted in Literature, Non-fiction, Review

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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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction, Review

What are ya, mate? Hugh Roberts

Pacific Highways (GriffithREVIEW 43)
Julianne Schultz and Lloyd Jones (eds)
Griffith University, $35.00,
ISBN 9781922182241

Is New Zealand peculiarly burdened with the curse of national introspection? Even to pose the question is to succumb to that curse; or perhaps to reduce it to its hall-of-mirrors core: “the defining characteristic of the New Zealander is to be endlessly preoccupied with discovering the defining characteristic of the New Zealander.” Can we ever stop worrying about “who we are now” and just start being it? Well, not yet, if the latest edition of the GriffithREVIEW is anything to go by.

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Posted in Essays, Fiction, Literature, Non-fiction, Poetry, Review, Short stories, Sociology

Sourcing the golden goose, Hugh Roberts

Elements of Modernism in Colin McCahon’s Early Work Gordon H Brown Art History Programme, Victoria University of Wellington, $15.00, ISBN 9780475122032 Toss Woollaston: Origins and Influence  Tony Green Art History Programme, Victoria University of Wellington, $15.00, ISBN 9771176304001 Colin McCahon

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Posted in Art, Essays, Non-fiction, Review

Green thoughts in green shades, Hugh Roberts

The Truth Garden Emma Neale Otago University Press, $30.00,  ISBN 9781877578250 The Bengal Engine’s Mango Afterglow Geoff Cochrane Victoria University Press, $25.00,  ISBN 9780864737618 Warm Auditorium James Brown Victoria University Press, $28.00,  ISBN 9780864737649 From Manoa to a Ponsonby Garden

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Conviction or reflection, Hugh Roberts

The Settler’s Plot: How Stories Take Place in New Zealand  Alex Calder Auckland University Press, $45.99, ISBN 9781869404882   Cosma Shalizi has proposed a useful division of non-fiction works into two categories, “works of reflection” and “works of conviction”: A

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Posted in History, Literature, Non-fiction, Review

Writing frankly, Hugh Roberts

Frank Sargeson’s Stories Janet Wilson (ed) Cape Catley, $47.99, ISBN 9781877340284   The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography tells us that “Frank Sargeson’s major achievement was to introduce the rhythms and idiom of everyday New Zealand speech to literature”, and

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Posted in Literature, Review, Short stories

Knocking the Nationalists, Hugh Roberts

The Invention of New Zealand: Art and National Identity 1930-1970 Francis Pound Auckland University Press, $75.00, ISBN 1869404149 Francis Pound’s The Invention of New Zealand is an uneven and often quirky work but one with which anyone interested in the

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Poets for the ear, Hugh Roberts

James K Baxter: Poems  Sam Hunt (ed)  Auckland University Press, $29.99,  ISBN 9781869404345 Doubtless: New and Selected Poems  Sam Hunt Craig Potton Publishing, $29.99, ISBN 9781877333811 Googling the phrase “New Zealand’s greatest poet” finds hits evenly divided between James K

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