Blog Archives

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

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

Young, gifted, female and brown, Elizabeth Crayford

Fale Aitu|Spirit House
Tusiata Avia
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776560646

Tail of the Taniwha
Courtney Sina Meredith
Beatnik Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780992264895

Lucky Punch
Simone Kaho
Anahera Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473367510

Before Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu|Spirit House was published, she made a point of telling her mother what she’d written, to which her mother replied, “It all needs to come out.” Avia tells us this in an endnote, but it could stand as epigraph to all three books. Reading Avia’s work alongside Courtney Sina Meredith’s Tail of the Taniwha and Simone Kaho’s Lucky Punch is to be immersed, sometimes uncomfortably, in contemporary Pasifika culture from a female perspective. Each writer’s voice is distinctive, yet similar themes crop up again and again. Anyone who’s read Albert Wendt’s Leaves of the Banyan Tree, or Sia Figiel’s more recent Where We Once Belonged, both set in Samoa, will not be surprised by the level of violence in these new works. However, the “all” that Avia’s mother implies is alive and kicking in New Zealand in the 21st century.

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Posted in Literature, Plays, Poetry and Review

Who is Sam? Phillip Mann

Star Sailors
James McNaughton
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561018

This book is not science fiction; it is science fact. Global warming, unless controlled, will create an uninhabitable world. The threat is real: it is here, it is now and it is not going away. Only we can stop it … and the clock is ticking. Though a day does not pass without our being made aware of global warming we, as the animal primarily responsible, do not seem able to take the necessary decisive action to avert it. Why is this?

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

The mess we’re in, Anne Kennedy

Lifting
Damien Wilkins
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561025

In the opening scene of Lifting, Amy, a department store detective, is pursuing a “Person of Interest” (POI) – a ubi-quitous, parka-wearing woman who is probably about to nick the wallets she has in her hand – when the POI stops to gaze at the indoor fountain, and the cat-and-mouse game pauses. Amy has noticed that lots of people hover at the fountain in Cutty’s store, not just because indoor water has “a terrible magic … might flow out and wreck things”, but for the opulent statue at its centre, a bronze Mercury, the Roman god (we are reminded) of “commerce, poetry and theft”. Despite the poor guy having been puritanically castrated years before, he remains focal in the store, with his winged feet and helmet, his attendant serpents.

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Posted in Fiction and Literature

Rewards, challenges, surprise, Roger Robinson

The Collected Poems of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560677

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell always surprised us.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review

Changing times, David Grant

>The New Zealand Labour Party 1916–2016
Peter Franks and Jim McAloon
Victoria University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781776560745

Researching a history of conservative political parties in New Zealand would be relatively straight-forward. The Reform/National Parties have, from their early beginnings to the present day, varied little ideologically – from centrist, to centre-right, to right – leaving the “far-right” tag essentially to those on that fringe, such as the Democrats in the 1930s, and ACT in more recent years. The same cannot be said of the New Zealand Labour Party, which veered from doctrinaire socialism under its first leader Harry Holland to, at the other extreme, unabashed neo-liberalism under David Lange (but led essentially by Roger Douglas) in the mid-to-late 1980s.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

A continuum of community, Chris Bourke

New Zealand Jazz Life
Norman Meehan (Tony Whincup photographer)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN  9781776560929

In the 1984 “mockumentary” This is Spinal Tap, the fictional rock band was positive about its declining fan base. “We are more selective about our audience,” reasoned one musician. As singer Malcolm McNeill points out in Norman Meehan’s stimulating examination of the contemporary jazz scene, in New Zealand the popularity of the genre is on a par with opera: it is supported by about three per cent of the population. McNeill also mentions that the funding it receives compared to classical music is disproportionately low, and a recent study quoted by Meehan confirms this.

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Posted in Music, Non-fiction and Review

Making friends with Mansfield, Ashlee Nelson

Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir
Sarah Laing
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776560691

The graphic form is in some ways a more complex undertaking than straightforward prose, for a graphic text must concern itself not only with the words of the narrative, but the art. Even more than this, the words and the art in a good graphic work should add to the meaning of the text by the way the two work skilfully together. In Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir, both the words and the art belong to Sarah Laing. Laing is a writer, a cartoonist, and a graphic designer by trade and she has applied her skills to each in a uniquely beautiful way. Nor is this the only synthesis accomplished by the book: Mansfield and Me is both a biography, of sorts, of Mansfield, and an autobiographical narrative.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Demythologising, Mike Grimshaw

Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand
Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560950

My late grandmother was a Presbyterian, who had some Catholic friends. They lived in working-class Stanley Point (when it was working-class) in Devonport. During the week, they existed very happily as friends and neighbours. But, on a Sunday, according to family lore, my nana, despite her bad hips, would walk the long way to church so she didn’t have to go past – and therefore acknowledge the existence of – the Catholic church. Apparently, her friends did the same thing in reverse. They were lives in which religious identity and practice were important components, yet these did not create sectarian communities, as during the week they lived interrelated non-sectarian lives. These were the respectable working class, whose children became middle-class, but a middle class that was still religious in framing culture and ethos, if not so regular practice, into the 1980s. Up to the end of the 1980s – and longer in the provinces and rural areas – there was still a large swathe of broad-church Protestantism and Catholicism in New Zealand.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review and Sociology
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