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A complicated relationship, Thom Conroy

The Ice Shelf
Anne Kennedy
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776562015

What role does a book invite me to accept as its reader? I need not comply with a book’s request, of course, but I’m bound to recognise or, at the very least, consider the question when beginning a review. Never an advocate of unnecessary terminology, the critic Wayne Booth used the term “friendship” to describe this relationship between what a book asks of us as readers and our response to that request. Anne Kennedy’s latest novel, The Ice Shelf, makes some strenuous demands on its readers and promises an intense – if intensely muddled – friendship in return.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Words uncaged, Tim Upperton

How to Defeat the Philistines David Beach, David Beach, $25.00

Winter Eyes Harry Ricketts, Victoria University Press, $25.00

A Fine Morning at Passchendaele Kevin Ireland, Steele Roberts, $25.00

Poetic forms are a bit like zoos. When I was a child, zoos had much smaller cages, and the lions and tigers and leopards would pace up and down inside them. You could see the animals, but you were also really aware of the bars on the cage. I don’t know if the animals were bored, or seething with anger. They would get to the end of the cage and turn around and pace again, and what I wanted more than anything was to see them break out of their cage. The same is true when I read a sonnet, or a villanelle, or a sestina: I’m most interested in those moments when poems chafe against the forms that constrain them. Zoos are different now, the cages are bigger, less obtrusive, and the animals have room to roam. Poetic forms are different, too. A sonnet, for instance, has 14 lines, except when it’s an American sonnet, when it might have 20, or more, or fewer. It has a volta, or turn, after the octave, except when it has no turn at all, and it follows a Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme, with sonorous pentameters, except when it’s in loose, unrhyming couplets, like Baxter’s “Jerusalem Sonnets”.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Back in the day, Chris Else

Tane’s War Brendaniel Weir, Cloud Ink Press, $30.00

Gone to Pegasus Tess Redgrave, Submarine, $35.00

Rotoroa Amy Head, Victoria University Press, $30.00,

Over the last ten years or so, the number of established New Zealand publishers bringing out local fiction has shrunk to less than a handful, while the annual output of eager talent from our creative writing schools has continued apace. As a result, there have been a lot of manuscripts out there struggling to reach a readership. Gradually, solutions have been found; literary ambition, like love, inevitably finds a way, resorting to such outlets as self-publishing, collectives and small one- or two-person companies.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

With thanks, Jane Westaway

Memory Pieces
Maurice Gee
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776562077

Anyone who has taken even a passing interest in Maurice Gee’s long career must be aware that his childhood has been the ongoing imaginative source of his fiction, and that he was unlikely to ever report on it in a memoir. Now, here comes his three-part Memory Pieces.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction

Wrestling with the past, Gwynaeth McIntyre

Athens to Aotearoa: Greece and Rome in New Zealand Literature and Society
Diana Burton, Simon Perris and Jeff Tatum (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561766

Athens to Aotearoa’s cover image, Herakles Wrestles the Taniwha, epitomises the very essence of this edited volume. As the editors state in their preface, they sought papers “exhibiting a sharp awareness of the pretensions, the impositions and the frictions that are all part of the reality of New Zealand’s confrontation with ancient Greece and Rome.” It is an analysis of this confrontation and the ways in which each paper wrestles with the relationship between Aotearoa New Zealand and its classical heritage that unites the volume.

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Posted in Literature, Review

A study of politically enforced self-restraint, Janet McLean

In Search of Consensus: New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its Constitutional Legacy
Elizabeth McLeay
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561841

As I write, the sitting president of the United States of America is reported to be seriously contemplating the use of his powers of pardon to pardon himself. Such proposed conduct illustrates just how much all constitutions, written or unwritten, require large measures of self-restraint on the part of officials and politicians in order to work properly. Constitutional lawyers, political scientists and pundits tend to focus on these and other incidents in which politicians test the limits of their powers. In her new book, In Search of Consensus: New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its Constitutional Legacy, Elizabeth McLeay does something which is much more original. She makes a study of the voluntary and wholly politically enforced self-restraint by New Zealand politicians in the Electoral Act 1956 and its successor legislation.

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Yearning and erasure, John Horrocks

He’s so MASC
Chris Tse
Auckland University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 1781869408879

The Facts
Therese Lloyd
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561810

Dark Days at the Oxygen Café
James Norcliffe
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776560837

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Fathoms deep, James Robins

The New Ships
Kate Duignan
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561889

It’s a deeply distressing thing to find the word “bugger” on the first page of a New Zealand writer’s novel. Rather like opening some French fiction to discover “sacré bleu!” taunting you. The instant, visceral fear is of cliché and kitsch, that grating Kiwi patois so maladapted to literature. Or, worse, calling to mind that old television ad of the grimy sheepdog grunting the word from the back of a ute.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

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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Posted in Literature, Review

“An area of increasing need”, Sylvan Thomson

Representing Trans: Linguistic, Legal and Everyday Perspectives 
Evan Hazenberg and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776561759

 

The day before this review was due, my mother messaged me to say that she had heard an interview on RNZ featuring my former endocrinologist, Dr John Delahunt. Curious, I looked the segment up, and discovered that it was prompted by an article published the same day in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The article, snappily titled “Increasing rates of people identifying as transgender presenting to Endocrine Services in the Wellington region”, describes a marked jump in those seeking referrals for therapy related to gender-reassignment, and a particularly steep increase in referrals for those under the age of 30. The study claims that the climb in numbers is “likely to be related to the increasing societal awareness and acceptance of gender diversity”, and Dr Delahunt, one of the study’s authors, concluded that the article was largely directed at health professionals, intended to “highlight an area of increasing need”.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology
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