What We're Reading

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Neil

7 1/2, by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin 2021)

I've been a fan of Tsiolkas since his masterpiece The Slap (2008), and have read everything he has produced since. 7 1/2 is his attempt to write something a bit different, less confronting, less explicit, more about love and beauty and landscape in the form of auto fiction. It's narrated by a writer at a coastal retreat to write a book, and so it's a book within a book, as the reader switches between the story of the writer, and his evolving work. It's descriptive and evocative of the beauty of the coast, the weather and the sea, and the story within the story is engaging and powerful.

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Neil

Raiment: A Memoir, by Jan Kemp (Massey April 2022)

The fourth in Massey's delightful, small format hardback memoir series, Raiment chronicles poet Jan Kemp's early childhood and teenage years, and ends in 1974 when, in her early 20s, she leaves NZ for good. Kemp was born in 1949 in Hamilton, grew up in Waikato before moving to Auckland with her family, and attended Auckland University during a very fertile period in arts and literature. She broke new ground as a female poet at that time, and was friends with many of the big names in the burgeoning visual arts, pottery and literature worlds.

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Neil

The Bookseller at the End of the World, by Ruth Shaw (Allen & Unwin April 2022)

Ruth Shaw runs a tiny bookshop in Manapouri. This isn't a Shawn Bythell like memoir about life in the bookshop, although it does feature amusing stories of characters who visit, it's more a moving, charming and chatty memoir about the fantastically colourful life Ruth led before she owned the bookshop. She was born in the 1940s, and has lived a very full life in NZ, Australia and at sea around the South Pacific and Indonesia, and writes with a great deal of charm and emotion, it's funny, eccentric and extremely moving. This will be extremely well, deservedly so.

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Neil

Outlandish, by Nick Hunt (John Murray 2021)

Nick Hunt has walked and written about most of Europe. He recreated the great walk of Patrick Leigh Fermor, and wrote the excellent Walking The Woods and The Water (2014). Now he sets off to walk in and experience 4 very different and unlikely European environments. He begins in Scotland's Arctic, the Cairngorms; then Poland's jungle, the last European remnant of primeval forest on the Poland Belarus border; then Spain's desert, in fact Europe's only true desert, in the south of Almeria; and then finally Hungary's steppe, the Great Plain Hortobagy.

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Neil

Remember Me, by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin, March 2022)

This superb psychological thriller, set in and around the Ruahine Range, is narrated by Emily Kirkland, a successful children's book illustrator who returns from London to care for her father who is suffering from dementia. A neighbouring woman disappeared 25 years previously, and Emily gradually starts to realise that her father knows more about it than she ever knew. He's struggling with his memory, however, and Emily is also squabbling with older siblings about their father's care, and his will and what will happen with his estate after his death.

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Neil

The Shadow Line, by Joseph Conrad (Penguin 1986, first published 1917)

This brief, late career novel based on Conrad's own experiences introduces the concept of crossing the shadow line between the naivety of youth and fully adult life. It's become a much-used term, but in Conrad's novel it concerns a young man who finds himself skipper of a sailing ship, for the first time, on a journey from Bangkok to Singapore. The ship is becalmed for some weeks, with almost all of the crew ill with 'tropical fever', the narrator is forced into an epic and largely sleepless journey in which he changes forever.