I’ll admit to being nervous in approaching this book. I love Jenny Pattrick’s rousing stories of colonial New Zealand communities and I’ve walked through the mud with her characters. Like many others I was introduced to her books through Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal and Denniston became part of my mental map. The same thing happened with Landings, and Catching the Current. Pattrick offers lively characters as guides to explore our colonial history.
Her new book, Harbouring, is set amid the NZ Company’s arrival in Wellington and the establishment of the colony there. Hence the nerves. Two years ago I published Jerningham. It’s the same story, wrought from the same material. What would an expert storyteller like Pattrick make of it?
I think this is the first time I’ve reviewed a self help book. They’re not really my thing. I place them in the same category as people who start sentences with: “You know what you should do?” The answer is usually to get on with something more interesting than whatever it is they think I need help with.
Ah! Charity Norman. I wanted a book to be hooked on and I knew her latest, Remember Me, would deliver. I’ve read dozens of books over summer and only a few of them have made it to review. The rest, ho hum, won’t hit these pages because they simply didn’t grip me. This blog is meant to be a collection of books I’ve enjoyed! So, thanks Charity, for getting me back on track.
Straight away this book indicates poetry, from the lack of capitalisation on the cover to the beautiful title. Small bodies of water. That’s us. I thought about this when I was swimming recently and think I have never been described so beautifully.
“I never told you anything important about myself but if you had asked, if you had paused to listen, I would have said: my dreams take place in the rainy season.“
Poetry or very poetic prose. Every sentence carries a lyricism, a hint of a wider, more exotic world, and hits a feeling that builds on this central emotion of being awash.
We meet Gabrijela stuffing sardines into tins at a factory, greasy and fish-stinking and dreaming of life beyond her village on an island off the Dalmatian coast. It’s 1959 and there is no bright future for a girl like her: it’s a family or the fishery. She’d like to be a teacher.
She loves her mother, her brother and her friends; her father is domineering but she accepts this and it’s a happy childhood. Then her mother’s half-brother, who has been distant for years and is now an official in Tito’s party, comes to oversee some work on the island and takes up residence in the household.
It’s two weeks ago and I am on a boat heading to a small beach on the edge of a remote bay on Aotea/Great Barrier Island. A Pōhutukawa tree fills the seaward side of the bay: in bloom and gloriously arched across a deep blue sky. We jump out on the sand and pull up the boat, looking up at a small house in the cove painted by the afternoon sun; quiet, unpeopled, and breathe a ‘thank you’ to the occupiers who tend this place with so much care. Through the lower branches of the tree, up a steep bank, a white picket fence is visible.
The Lincoln Highway follows Amor Towles’ masterpiece that is A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. That’s a hard act to follow and this new novel is bigger and more ambitious with a wide cast of characters, multiple viewpoints and a storyline that deliberately goes in the wrong direction. Where the Moscow gentleman was confined to one hotel for almost the entire book, this 580 page monster of a story roams halfway across America.
It is in the style of a classic 1950s American roadie and features a group of footloose young men and a couple of cars.
Mrs Jewell & the Wreck of the General Grant is the story of the survivors of this most famous of shipwrecks. In 1866 the General Grant, carrying miners, their families and gold home from Melbourne struck towering cliffs that reared out of the sea at night. She was sucked into a cave and sank. Fourteen men and one woman (Mrs Jewell) made it ashore on the remote, sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands where they lived as castaways for eighteen months. This is the base for my new novel, due in June with Cuba Press, best-guessing to fill gaps in the survivors’ testimonies and reading between the lines in the context of the times and situation. Everything we know about the story has been told to us by the survivors and despite numerous searches along that wild coast for over 150 years, the ship and her gold has never been found.
But—and here we go again with history reasserting itself— that might be about to change. For that I blame swashbuckling shipwreck fanatic, Bill Day.
Stripped bare, this is a book a story about a man stripped bare.
Peter is confronted by a portrait painted by his wife. It’s a naked man, sitting on a chair. Nothing else. He is not even sure it is him. He wife has died of cancer, Peter is in mourning and he finds the painting in a shed at their Castlepoint bach, a exposed place he wants to sell. Even the bach is not what he thought; the field he believed was his actually belongs to a neighbour.
This is a mid-life crisis story if ever there was one. Every concept Peter uses to define himself is stripped away on the turning point of his wife’s death.
I read Waitapu over a couple of leisurely evenings and loved it. It’s a beautiful book, elegantly written and so evocative of every small town in New Zealand that we know from a drive past, or a dip into when we visit a grandparent. I remember going with a Wellington friend home to small town NZ and this takes me back there, the interconnected community, the talk across the fence, the visits. There was a sort of pride that everyone knew each other but an embarrassment, too. My friend couldn’t wait to be away again.