Dear Vincent, by Mandy Hager
In a dysfunctional family, Tara McClusky grows up isolated. There is no other kid in school who has to spoon feed and change her father, work in a retirement home to help pay the basics and tip-toe around a mother who seems to have no instinct to mother. Her mum works nights, so they cross paths without ever really communicating, in a perfunctory routine. “‘How was school?’ ‘Okay.’ We’ve got this pseudo-Mass thing going on, where Mum chants through her litany and I respond with practised care. It doesn’t pay to go off-script.” There are no hugs or comfort. Tara’s older sister has died after being sent away to family in Ireland to sort herself out. She had gone wild: promiscuous and druggy. But she was always a tower of love to Tara and now she has gone.
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“Taukiri and I drove here in Tom Aiken’s truck. We borrowed it to move all my stuff. Tom Aiken helped. Uncle Stu didn’t. This was my home now.”
Brave words from an orphaned boy dropped with remote, dysfunctional whanau. He watches his brother drive away. He says he’ll come back as soon as he can, but we wait with Ārama as the story unfolds and Becky Manawatu breaks our hearts. “Uncle Stu made people doubt they existed, and when you doubted you existed long enough, you started to disappear.” But even this lost little boy finds friendship with Tom Aiken’s sassy daughter (as good a depiction of kids’ friendship as you’ll find in any classic) and comfort with the dog, Lupo, until Uncle Stu fucks that up, too. Uncle Stu does a lot of fucking up. And he’s just the start.
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The Adventures of Tupaia, by Courtney Sina Meredith and Mat Tait
Tupaia has shot to fame these last months as the pin-up boy of our history. Neither Māori nor Pakeha, the Tahitian ‘ariori (priest) and navigator who travelled with Cook bridged two very different cultures in 1769. If we approach the study of Aotearoa/New Zealand history through his eyes we develop a fresh understanding of our first encounters.
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Cook’s Cook, by Gavin Bishop
Cook’s Cook is a picture book story of James Cook’s journey on the Endeavour, told through the eyes of his one-handed cook.
I’ve just come off a voyage on the replica Endeavour, sleeping in a hammock next to the stove where much of the action in this book takes place, so it all seems very real to me. We heard the stories of the salted meat being dragged behind the boat to wash off the salt and soften the meat, and we checked the barrels for remnants of rum. There was none. It had been licked clean by sailors long ago. Cook’s men subsisted on a diet of poorly packed supplies from home—by today’s standards—and things they scavenged on the way. Gavin Bishop has uncovered recipes that filled bellies. Along with the inevitable pease pudding hot or cold, treats included:
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Taking the Long Road to Cairo, by Ann Balcombe
Ann Balcombe’s story is of a fearless young woman who gets on a boat in Auckland and ends up, a couple of years later, in Cairo, via lots of big seas and a whole lot of road. It’s the 1970s.
There is a special place in history for intrepid women who sail across the world into the unknown and go exploring with open minds and courage. I’m in their boots in spirit.
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Attraction, by Ruby Porter
This is a fabulous looking cover, which compelled me to buy Attraction on sight. I dived in and found the writing as terrific as the presentation. I am now going to read everything Ruby Porter writes on any subject at all. Attraction is just such an incredibly stylish read and I loved every page.
I mention the subject of the book, because although the kiwi setting appealed, the story itself wasn’t for me. Three young women are on a coming-of-age roadie around small-town New Zealand, with lots of well-thrashed issues about relationships and sexuality and illness and colonial angst. I felt out of place with the characters, perhaps a little voyeuristic, a bit bored with the self-obsession, and the plot took me nowhere new. Didn’t matter. The fact that these conversations aren’t mine did not in the least detract from the beautiful way Porter expresses herself. You might not love the subject of a painting or way it is framed, but the power of the artist can still blow you away.
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This Mortal Boy, by Fiona Kidman
Paddy Black killed a man. But does he deserve to hang? The question on the book cover is no hook. Our answer is instinctive. We don’t hang kids. But we did.
This is a bleak story, with not much to love here. Not the characters, who are all flawed and self-serving; some have my sympathy, but not my love. Nor the setting, which is a dingy and bleak 1950s Auckland, set around squalid squats, drinking joints and the streets of Mount Eden leading to the jail. The judgemental society of the time and place will break your heart. Continue reading “This Mortal Boy – book review”