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Beyond the pale, Kathryn Walls

Heloise
Mandy Hager
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770992

Heloise is Mandy Hager’s reconstruction in novelistic terms of the lives of the 12th-century lovers Heloise and Abelard, told from Heloise’s point of view. While both Abelard and Heloise read a great deal, neither of them had ever read a novel. They had, no doubt, read Augustine’s Confessions, an autobiography as distant in time from the 12th century as the 12th century is from our own. But Augustine saw no point in the concrete realisation of experience that characterises most novels. Unlike Hager, he does not mention things like the off-putting “flatulence, coughs and wheezing snores” of the convent dormitory, or the impression made on him by “streams of fish gut and animal entrails that [ran] down to meet the river”, or where the privy was. His subject was his psyche as a model for the reader’s. Being an African, he might have been black, but his skin colour remains a mystery. And yet, Hager, whose novel is rich in evocations of earthy reality, is not genuinely concerned with “the medieval body” (although the subject is currently being done to death by academics). Indeed, she has followed in the steps of Augustine (in this respect, at least, as so many great novelists have done) by focusing on the trajectory of her subject’s inner life. Paradoxically, while she has sought to establish authenticity by appealing to our senses, the effect here is decorative. What is truly authentic about her novel is quite different. Hager has, impressively, studied a wealth of primary and secondary texts in order to reconstruct Heloise’s mental and emotional development.

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Foreign countries, Kathryn Walls

The Bakehouse Joy Cowley Gecko Press, $20.00, ISBN 978177650072 The Knot Impossible: A Tale of Fontania Barbara Else Gecko Press, $25.00, ISBN 978177650041 The Girl Who Rode the Wind Stacy Gregg HarperCollins, $25.00, ISBN 9780008124304   Joy Cowley’s The Bakehouse

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature and Review

New seeds for old, Kathryn Walls

The Mijo Tree Janet Frame (Deidre Copeland illus) Penguin, $25.00, ISBN 9780143569428 A Book is a Book Jenny Bornholdt (Sarah Wilkins illus) Gecko Press, $25.00, ISBN 9781877579929 Dunger Joy Cowley Gecko Press, $20.00, ISBN 9781977579462 Janet Frame sent the typescript

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature and Review

Home truths and fantasy worlds, Kathryn Walls

Kathryn Walls identifies the realism beneath Mahy’s magic. Margaret Mahy has been repeatedly described as “magical” or “marvellous”, her fiction as “fantastic.”  These conveniently alliterating adjectives seem apt partly because so much of Mahy’s work is classifiable as fantasy, and

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Posted in Comment

Don’t we live in America? Rose Lovell-Smith

A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction Anna Jackson, Geoff Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer and Kathryn Walls Victoria University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9780864736970   Chapter four of this collection of essays by five authors is called “Utopia”.

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Posted in Essays, Literature, Non-fiction, Review and Young adults

Riddles and charms, Kathryn Walls

The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy: The Word Witch Tessa Duder (ed), David Elliot (illustrations) HarperCollins, $44.99, ISBN 9781869507077 The Dark Blue Hundred-ride Bus Ticket Margaret Mahy HarperCollins, $19.99, ISBN 9781869508166 Awesome Aotearoa: Margaret Mahy’s History of New Zealand Margaret

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Posted in Children, History, Literature and Review

Children’s fiction Wilderness tips, Kathryn Walls

The Tears of Harry Wakatipu Jack Lasenby Longacre Press, $18.99, ISBN 1877361437 Stories about individuals surviving in the wilderness have a long history. The Old Testament represents the wilderness as the place of escape from the oppression and corruption of

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Cracks in the world, Kathryn Walls

Margaret Mahy: A Writer’s Life Tessa Duder HarperCollins, $39.95, ISBN 1869504852 Margaret Mahy’s 1995 novel The Other Side of Silence presents itself as the autobiography of its female hero (whose name, too, is “Hero”). At the end, however, the first

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction and Review

Charms and riddles, Kathryn Walls

Another 100 New Zealand Poems for Children ed Rachel McAlpine (illustrated David Elliot) Random House, $24.95, ISBN 1869414853 Like its evidently popular predecessor, this anthology is invitingly presented. Hard covers announce that it is meant to be kept for long-term

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Posted in Children, Literature, Poetry and Review
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