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A singular genius, Andrew Wood

Colours of a Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid
Anna Cahill
Mary Egan Publishing, $80.00,
ISBN 9780473423834

Over the decades, New Zealand has lost a tragic amount of cultural talent overseas for many reasons: the old bashing machine drives them away, cultural cringe makes the appeal of Europe and North America irresistible, or politics, or unconventional sexuality. Some have gone on to become very famous indeed – Frances Hodgkins and Katherine Mansfield, for example. The phenomenon is even responsible for an entire genre of New Zealand literature, resulting in several novels and biographies and biographical sketches by James McNeish, and Martin Edmond’s excellent The Expatriates. Anna Cahill’s Colours of Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid is a wonderful addition to that body of work.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction

Giving them what they want, Linda Burgess

Donato and the Cartege Blade
Fiona Jordan
Mary Egan Publishing, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473437367

1918: Broken Poppies Des Hunt, Scholastic, $19.00,

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot Suzanne Main, Scholastic, $17.00,

Dawn Raid Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic, $18.00,

Unlike the other books reviewed, Fiona Jordan’s Donata and the Cartege Blade is not set in a current or historical New Zealand. Its setting is recognisable, though. Time – Middle Ages, round about: place – fantasy land. This means there are monasteries, cloaked monks, ruined abbeys, looming mountains, ancient castles with dark passages, attempted assassinations and more than a hint of issues to do with identity. Indeed, quite early on in the novel, the protagonist learns he is no ordinary boy. He is the child of important parents, and who they are is one of the main threads running through the story. As a baby, it became clear that he was at risk of being murdered, so he was deftly swapped with another baby. Which was rather unfortunate for the replacement baby, for whom the swap turned out to be fatal.

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Posted in Children, Fiction, Literature, Review

Revenge, arguments and silliness, Bernard Carpinter

Marlborough Man
Alan Carter
Fremantle Press, $38.00,
ISBN 978125164534

Presumed Guilty
Mark McGinn
Merlot Publishing, $33.00,
ISBN 9781513618609

The Empty Coffin
Gary Moore
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473388959

Fans of New Zealand crime fiction can add one more name to the rather compact list of excellent local writers. The name is Alan Carter, and he’s actually an import, but his Marlborough Man is authentic Kiwi through and through. Originally from Sunderland in northeast England, Carter, emigrated to Perth in 1991, later began splitting his time between Perth and the Marlborough Sounds, and now lives in Havelock at the base of the Sounds.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Loosening stiff upper lips, Charlotte Graham

Leap of Faith 
Jenny Pattrick
Black Swan, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143770916

Good Sons
Greg Hall
Mary Egan Publishing, $32.00,
ISBN 9780473383787

It seems there are two major challenges for any author wanting to write about New Zealand in some of its formative historical periods. One is the research. The other is conveying the spirit of tough people who lived tough lives, when often these were men and women of few words. The tendency of our forebears not to respond to even the most brutal of conditions, or to utterly cavernous moments of grief and loss, with anything other than stoicism, has bred an odd national reluctance to talk about our problems that persists, in some forms, to the present day. It presents an even bigger challenge to writers of historical fiction, who need to convey moments of hope and anguish among the austere, taciturn Pākehā of 1907 or 1917 without breaking character or boring us to tears. On screen, it can be done with sideways looks: the raise of an eyebrow, or a mumbled syllable. But Jenny Pattrick, author of Leap of Faith, and Greg Hall, in his book Good Sons, have set themselves a difficult task to convey it through text.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Brave writing, Charlotte Simmonds

The Walking Stick Tree
Trish Harris
Escalator Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994118646

A Small Blue Thing
Julie Hanify
Submarine, $35.00,
ISBN 9780994123770

The Case of the Missing Body
Jenny Powell
Otago University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781877578311

What Does the Sea Sound Like?
Evie Mahoney
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473367718

My friend Uther once called a play A Show About Superheroes, partly as a ploy to get non-theatre people into theatres, under the logic that there are people who will go to anything if it is about superheroes. Similarly, there are people who will read any book on certain topics.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Olympian heights, John Horrocks

Striking Gold: New Zealand Hockey’s Remarkable Victory at the 1976 Olympics Suzanne McFadden Mary Egan Publishing, $40.00 ISBN 9780473343729 Striking Gold is the story of one of the great moments in New Zealand’s sporting history. The 1976 Olympics are remembered

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sport

Lives shaped by the novelist, Elspeth Sandys

Death and Forgiveness
Jindra Tichá
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473306717

Rich Man Road
Ann Glamuzina
Eunoia Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994104748

In a recent review in New Zealand Books, Jane Westaway commented on the rise, both in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, of the small press, a phenomenon directly attributable to the devouring appetite of the multinational conglomerates. Having charted the rise and rise of such monster publishing companies as Penguin Random House, and the corresponding disappearance, at least from the fiction market, of hitherto commercially successful local presses, Westaway went on to observe that, whereas in the past book editors (she herself is a past co-editor of New Zealand Books) were inclined to turn their noses up at the so-called “vanity press”, in today’s changed world of publishing, that response is no longer valid. Small presses are here to stay!

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review
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