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.
I’d have bought stacks of Loop Tracks for my women friends for Christmas if most of my wf hadn’t already read it and recommended it to me.
Sue Orr has hit the zeitgeist with this story of a 50-something woman living on a Wellington hill and bringing up her socially awkward teenage grandson. There are many topics in the book, which begins with the woman as a sixteen-year-old girl on the verge of an abortion which she decides against, a decision that comes to define her life. The loops run through themes of women’s rights, shame, love, trust, control, freedom and responsibility like a loop pedal on the sound track of a young woman’s guitar.
Yes, shivers run down spines and everyone is fabulously rich, mysterious and beautiful so put aside all hope for a literary experience, embrace the superlatives and read this for the sheer joy of a long and complicated story, well told.
A while ago someone told me their cousin/sister-in-law (can’t remember) Charlotte Randall wrote New Zealand books and I so wish I could remember who it was because I want to thank them profusely. I’m reading my way through all Randall’s novels and thoroughly enjoying every page.
The Curative is set in Bedlam and is funny. I’ll reread it before reviewing, but thoroughly recommend it. The Bright Side of my Condition , again, is bleak and hilarious. Both of these books are told by people who, after some life-changing event, have little of anything left other than the insides of their heads but what goes on there is imaginative as hell. Randall seems to enjoy exploring the inner madness of men.
Our culture is made up of the stories we tell. What do our 2020 stories say about us?
I’ve recently been engaged in debates about fiction versus non-fiction and have been firmly on the side of fiction being a useful tool to expand our understanding of the world, to inspire empathy and to learn by seeing the world how others see it. Squid Game has changed that.
I love the start of this book. It’s the antithesis of the thoroughly modern style where you bang crash into the action and grab the reader by the balls. (I don’t have balls but have a good imagination.) There’s a beautiful story setting: a woman does nothing more than walk down the road but I’m there, with her.