Book Review: From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, by Kate De Goldi

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This book will be launched tonight at Unity Books Wellington, from 6pm. It will be available in bookshops nationwide from tomorrow.  

I had to slow myself down while reading this book, to better savour the words inside. Halfway through, I already knew I wanted to re-read it. Kate De Goldi is a spectacular wordsmith. Her main characters, Ren and Barney, are alive on the page, so alive that to read their story is to experience it. I certainly experienced a craving for Sultana Pasties, Barney’s favourite biscuit, while reading each evening.

Barney Kettle, as you can probably tell from the cover and title of the book, is a filmmaker. He lives and breathes “thethrillingalchemyofthecreativeprocess”. Though he is only 12, he is certain a successful career as a film director is in his future. After all, he has already produced three 15-minute films. His teacher mum thinks he is a megalomaniac, but also thinks that this is a good thing for a film director to be. He loves nothing more than to be called ‘Maestro’. His 11-year-old sister Ren is his ‘Slash’. She plays the role of producer / assistant director / casting director / set designer / costume manager / location scout / caterer in all of his grandly schemed films.

We enter the world of Barney and Ren from the perspective of an unnamed man in a hospital bed. He begins the story twice, and the story is written, though not strictly alternately, from Barney then Ren’s points of view. The perspectives of each sibling bring a different colour to their story of the street they live on; for their fourth film is to be a documentary called the Untold Story, and it is about the Street and its residents, each of whom comes alive as they are filmed. Bambi, a Canadian acrobat, is just one of these residents: ‘She had performed with a triple trapeze in countless Big Tops; she had lived closely with clowns.’

280px-ChristchurchBasilica_gobeirneAs well as being the story of Barney, this is the story of Christchurch’s High Street prior to the earthquake. I lived in the Catholic boarding school next to the Basilica mentioned in this novel, attending there once a week for mass (and once walking inside the top of the domes). I often walked to town via High Street, and first became aware of how beautiful certain periods of architecture were while walking down it. Kate writes incredibly immersive books – as with the character of Frankie in The 10pm Question, you feel you want to jump up and down with Barney when he is excited, and your emotions plunge with Barney’s as glitches in his grand plans arise.

As well as the story of the Street, there is a mystery, which begins concurrent to the Untold Story with a simple white envelope marked ‘YOU’. We follow the siblings through the homes of their friends, filming as we go, and keeping an eye out for another envelope. One brilliant filming session happens in Montgomery’s, the community bookshop. Suit drops in to purchase his weekly book – a day early – and the siblings ask him what he likes about the shop.

Oh, it’s the ambience…. Then there is the endless potential in the books, the warmth they seem to exude, their heady aroma. The filtered light. And the hush of absorption. The holy feeling of a republic of readers. And the presiding magus – the person who brings us all this. Without Gene’s dedication, and Sarah’s and Billie’s, of course, where would we be? We would be a lesser Street.’

I feel richer for having read about the people of De Goldi’s High Street, from the bookshop to the Nut Shop, the junk shop the kids’ dad runs, to the Living History Museum – an echo of the website created by ex-High Street inhabitants, High Street Stories. I urge everybody to go and get this book and read it, no matter your age. This ode to the Christchurch of yore is phenomenally good.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
by Kate De Goldi
Published by Longacre Press / Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535768

2 thoughts on “Book Review: From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, by Kate De Goldi

  1. Pingback: Kate De Goldi talks From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, and the Christchurch earthquakes |

  2. Pingback: From the Cutting-Room of Barney Kettle, Kate De Goldi – Hooked on New Zealand Books

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