The New Ships, by Kate Duignan
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.
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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.
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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.
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Hokitika Town by Charlotte Randall
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.
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Blindsight, by Maurice Gee
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.
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The Tomo, by Mary-anne Scott
Another great adventure story from Hawke’s Bay writer, Mary-anne Scott, who has cornered the shelves in my house for books for boys. Again, she nails it, on-point for pace, topic and characters. The Tomo, hot off the press and in good time for Christmas, is aimed at boys who can read for themselves (8-14 ish) and fancy themselves heros of the great outdoors (at least in their imaginations). Oh, and you have to love dogs to understand this book. I mean, how can you possibly relate to a boy who risks his life for a dog otherwise?
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She is not your rehab by Matt Brown with Sarah Brown
Lots of books glorifying violence out there but I’ve never come across anything so focussed on stopping the intergenerational cycle of harm perpetuated on the vulnerable as this extraordinary work by Matt Brown and Sarah Brown. It’s part story, part autobiography, part self-help guide, part conversation, 100% inspiration.
Matt’s a barber; the creator of My Fathers Barbers. Men sit in his chair and chat. Not so much: Where are you going for your holidays, more : This is a safe space. You can talk about that if you want.
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Entanglement, by Bryan Walpert
I read the first page and was smitten. Not sure what it was that hit me, I’m inclined to say the smell, which is nonsense, but it was that kind of attraction, something that comes at you side on and makes you turn your head.
This is a clever book. It’s about the study of time travel, and redemption, and doesn’t unfold for you easily. We come at the story through different perspectives, all of them quite wonderful.
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Rangitira, by Paula Morris
What a great book to follow my previous read, This Thing of Darkness. Both Thompson and Paula Morris’s book relate to the 19th Century notion of taking indigenous people from distant lands back to England to “civilise” them and show them off as curiosities. In Thompson’s book, Captain FitzRoy uplifts three Fuegians to ship home, and in Morris’s book the Rangitira travel voluntarily to England. Whichever way you look at it, this is manifest colonial exploitation.
Paula Morris is a descendent of Rangitira’s narrator, the wonderful Paratene Te Manu, Ngāti Wai, and she writes her tupuna with a sure voice. He comes across as a thoughtful and gracious man who, in 1886 while having his portrait painted by Gottfried Lindauer, relates the story of his voyage to England some twenty years before.
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The Secrets of Strangers, by Charity Norman
Next time you are in a café, pretend to be Charity Norman and imagine a backstory for everyone in the room. I heard her talk last week and she explained that this was how she came to write the The Secrets of Strangers, just looking around patrons in a café and imagining their stories. One customer knows she has just failed IVF again and is waiting for the confirmation, she’s on a timeline for court and has four minutes to pick up a coffee. Another is an ex-teacher with a gambling addiction, sleeping rough. A boy comes in for breakfast with his grandmother and he will need saving first. There’s a woman who has escaped such atrocities in her homeland it is hard to believe she still functions but she is rock solid and kind to strangers. The girl behind the counter plays too easily with others’ emotions; one man gaslights and manipulates and is about to get shot and one is so traumatised he will pull the trigger.
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