This is a collection of evocative, affecting, poetic, imaginative short stories. (Extremely short: microfiction, I think it’s called.) Some are slices of life, some are magical, some are funny, but they are all beautiful and satisfying to read.
Articles about New Zealand
The Pink Jumpsuit – Emma Neale
The Big Shift — Deirdre Kent
This slim volume sets out some pretty radical proposals for fixing New Zealand’s monetary and financial systems. These systems are not working as well as they should, and Kent’s ideas could improve society and help deal with climate change. I can’t see them happening anytime soon, but the future is a very long time…Continue reading
Rain — Kirsty Gunn
Did you ever read a book or watch a film where you could just tell that something awful was going to happen? You dreaded the turn of every page in anticipation of the imminent horror. And yet you just had to keep reading, to find out what actually happens.Continue reading
Six Clever Girls Who Became Famous Women — Fiona Farrell
This book starts out as a day in the life of a group of six schoolgirls. This is a world that is unfamiliar to me, so it seemed exotic and yet still quite believable. After establishing the characters and putting them through some ups and downs, we fast-forward several years: we get to see the girls as adults, see how they’ve changed but how they mostly haven’t, and see how they deal with the directions their lives have taken. It’s a nice ensemble piece. The women are more or less relatable but they are all interesting, and their stories are full of nicely-rendered moments. And there are some very satisfying resolutions too.
The Beat of the Pendulum — Catherine Chidgey
This experimental “found novel” is great. Once I got into it, it was like a beautifully edited minimalistic fly-on-the-wall documentary in print.
Every day for a year, Catherine Chidgey recorded or wrote down a conversation, email, overheard snippet, advertisement or some other piece of text. That’s what this book is. Initially it’s pretty disorienting as there’s only speech — no introductions, descriptions or even “he said” or “she said”. It takes a while to figure out who the characters are and what their relationships are. Even by the end of the book I was still losing track of who was talking during long conversations.Continue reading
Elizabeth Smither — The Mathematics of Jane Austen
It was probably the title that enticed me to buy this collection of understated short stories. The title story is about a woman trying to write a thesis on the use of mathematical concepts in the writings of Jane Austen. It’s clever, amusing and likeable. I enjoyed reading the stories, which made a relaxing contrast to the harrowing writing of Lucia Berlin or Miranda July.Continue reading
Zeustian Logic — Sabrina Malcolm
Owls Do Cry — Janet Frame
This is deservedly one of the classic New Zealand novels. When I returned it to the library, the librarian eagerly asked me how it was. I said it was really good — a novel version of Frame’s short stories. The shifting viewpoints give a broad understanding of the characters and events, and the impressionistic first-person narrative really made me feel what it must be like for the main character, living a life very different to mine. Bad things happen to her, but there are also many marvellous moments of beauty:
He’ll Be OK — Celia Lashlie
This book is about about raising boys, especially teenagers. It’s heartfelt and compelling, and it has a lot of good things to think about and remember if you have or are planning to have a teenaged son.
Celia Lashlie spent a lot of time at boys’ schools talking with the boys and their teachers, and describes what it’s like to be a student in a boys’ school. She describes the experience really thoroughly — as I read, I really felt I knew what their world was like. But there are many different ways for boys to experience their school life, and I thought she focused on one without really acknowledging others.
The view in the book is undoubtedly true for many boys — the importance of sports, mates, school spirit — but experiences are different for everyone. I went to a boys’ high school myself, and I do recognise some of the aspects of schoolboy life that Lashlie describes. But overall my own experience was generally more middle-of-the-road than that described in the book. Of course some of my fellow students were much more extreme than me, but some were more boring and conventional — I don’t think my experience was that unusual. Lashlie does occasionally nod towards alternatives, but overall the world she describes does seem traditional and stereotyped. Perhaps that’s the most obvious view to an outsider, but I do feel Lashlie romanticises things a bit.
Can You Tolerate This? — Ashleigh Young
This is like one of those great, wide-ranging conversations where you talk about everything, from what you did last weekend to the meaning of life, and everything in between. Each essay is on its own topic and they are apparently unrelated, but as I got into the second half of the book I found that they started to go together and give a coherent picture.Continue reading