Books I’ll be giving this Christmas, by Nicole Phillipson

Nicole Phillipson has recently joined Booksellers NZ after completing her MA (Applied) in Short Story Writing at the IIML. Here are five books that impressed her this year, that she will be gifting to her friends and family.

Man V Nature, by Diane Cook (Oneworld) 9781780748153

cv_man_v_natureThis short story collection feels truly “2016.” Each genre-defying story contains a miniature dystopia: floods rise to swallow the earth, monsters invade workplaces, and a society reverts to brutal survivalism. Maybe you’re feeling that you’ve had enough apocalyptic events this year to last a lifetime, but if humour is the best medicine Cooke’s extremist fantasies are the perfect, darkly funny antidote to this year. Her unhinged characters – like walking, talking Freudian ids – are strangely loveable, and the title story, a Lord of the Flies scenario set on a fishing boat, manages to be both unsettling and hysterical.

Mansfield and Me, by Sarah Laing (VUP) 9781776560691

cv_mansfield_and_meThe first thing you notice about Laing’s graphic memoir is the visual deliciousness – the warm and affectionate drawing style makes it hard to stop turning pages. As you read on, you will become immersed in a frank, funny and understated exploration of Laing’s life. What sets this book apart is its dual narrative: Laing’s story is interspersed with Mansfield’s own. Laing brings Mansfield’s spiky, brilliant, often tormented character to life through Mansfield’s own words and striking black-and-white images. There is a bare honesty which lets you feel the most poignant moments of both women’s emotion: their self-doubt, deep pain and passion.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury) 9781408880364

cv_commonwealthAnn Patchett has a great talent for evoking situations that feel deeply real. She is unafraid in exploring the darkest folds of humanity, but also casts light on moments of beauty and warmth. Commonwealth follows ten different characters in two entangled families, the Cousins and the Berts, over five decades. The story begins with a striking scene in which married lawyer Bert Cousins shows up at the christening party of acquaintances Beverly and Fix Keating. A drunken kiss between Bert and Beverly is the single catalyst for irrevocable changes in both families. Patchett is a dab hand at pulling the rug out from under you. Characters who initially seem incurably heartless are slowly softened under Patchett’s empathetic touch. Commonwealth is a universally relatable story of family.

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse (AUP) 9781869408183

cv_how_to_be_dead_in_a_year_of_snakesIn How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes, Chris Tse uses poetry to transmute history into a living pulse of emotion. The collection is loops around an event 1905, when white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered elderly Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung. Multiple voices sing through the collection including that of the unhinged Terry himself. But one beauty of this book is the way it turns history on its head, giving a voice to the Cantonese immigrants and Maori whose voices were written out from the Pakeha historical narrative. Tse explores death both in literal and symbolic senses, as Yung is erased both physically and narratively: ‘As you bleed out/ the night rejects your history,’ and Tse brings him to life again. These are deeply evocative, empathetic poems with words that ring and echo.

Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing) 9781922182029

cv_coming_rainComing Rain, set in the harsh outback of Western Australia, explores the human condition amidst a mesmerising evocation of farming life and the desert. The novel is set in 1956, largely set in the ‘marginal wheat and sheep lands’ of the South West of Western Australia. It follows the young Lew and the older Painter, who work together, shearing sheep and charcoal burning, traversing the land in Lew’s truck. Two concurrent stories weave and intercross: the quiet, tragic narrative of Lew and Painter and that of a pregnant dingo being tracked by a hunter. A book which delves into the minutae of the outback with beautiful, haunting descriptions, and leaves space for the deep, quiet sorrow of its main characters to fill the narrative.

by Nicole Phillipson

christmas-top-indiebound_v2

Advertisements

WORD: Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley with Kate De Goldi

cv_coming_rainComing Rain is the second and latest novel by New Zealand author, from Australia, Stephen Daisley. Kate De Goldi talked with him about his latest book, which won the Acorn Foundation Literary Award at the recent Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

As De Goldi said, “Daisley lives in West Australia but is absolutely a Kiwi.” She started by outlining the key characters, an older man, Painter, and a younger man, Lou. The third main character is a Dingo bitch. Between these three runs tenderness and violence. The dingo is in pup and spends the story desperate for food and a safe place to whelp. The two men work together and the work is an important part of the narrative. Daisley read a long passage in which the men arrive at a shearing quarters and prepare food. As De Goldi points out, all the tools are named by their manufacturer which gives them a sense of importance in the story: a Green River skinning knife, a Kelly axe. It is probably the first in-depth description of actual work since the start of the 1900s.

De Goldi also commented on the prose where pronouns are often dropped which gives a fragmentary effect to the story. Daisley sees this as allowing the reader to become part of the narrative as they fill in the blanks with their own ideas. He creates “a new kind of music within the sentence”.

The influences of Irish and American writers like Faulkner and Steinbeck are important, but so too are Janet Frame and the New Zealand poets of her era. As Daisley quipped, he has a sign beside his computer which states,”Don’t show off, you bastard”.

Dingo is an important character in the story and one reader commented,”the best animal depiction since Watership Down.” Observing his own dogs helped in creating this close relationship with an animal which is so starkly portrayed.

The two men are formed by two wars and a depression. Daisley reflected at some length on how we are what has gone before. As Faulkner says,”there is no such thing as the past, we carry it with us”.

As a boy, Daisley wanted to write, but at 15 his mother suggested he would grow out of it. It took decades before his first book on Gallipolli, Traitor, was published, but the intervening years as soldier, shearer and farmer have seen him continue to write.

De Goldi had a perceptive understanding of Coming Rain, even surprising Stephen Daisley with her observations. It was a wonderful insight into the ideas behind the text and probably more so , to the person behind the story.

I look forward to more from this pen.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley with Kate De Goldi

Coming Rain
by Stephen Daisley
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182029

Book Review: Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_rainYou enter this novel through the mind of a pregnant female dingo, and this sets the scene for a tale of hard yakka in a merciless country.

Lew has been travelling with Painter since his mum gave him to a shearing contractor, in the hope that he’d have a better life “off the sheep’s back”. Painter was the ringer, since then gone to drink and ruin, now only Lew keeps up with him. They find work where they can, shearing and labouring, prospecting in the slow times.

Coming Rain tells the coming-of-age of Lew, alongside that of our female dingo, who is smarter than she knows. The first time we see Lew, he is on a beach, saying hello to a woman who emerges dripping from the ocean. The life guards warn them off her, because of how they look – scruffy, poor – but she takes a liking to him and so he experiences his first time.

The dingo takes on a young wounded male as run mate. She takes pity on him as he puts himself at her mercy, and they run together, their respective packs gone to the gun. As Lew and Painter move together in a barren landscape, their stories echo each other, with street smarts being pitted against instinct. Daisley writes dingo so convincingly, he might find himself cast in the role of dingo behavioural expert one day soon.

The theme of social class becomes predominant as the novel moves on, with Lew’s infatuation with the daughter of the owner of the farm at which they are shearing forbidden, not only by the half-crazed landowner, who recently lost his wife, but by Painter. But the theme doesn’t override the story: the characters live as you read them, there is nothing that is contrived.

Coming Rain had, of course, already won the Acorn Foundation Literary Prize when I picked it up to read. I was intrigued by the appeal of the unknown writer – and one, as the publicist on the night of the Awards said, with ‘such a great back story.’ I expected something a bit like Tim Winton at his wildest – Dirt Music, perhaps – but Daisley isn’t that type of writer. He uses vernacular, he is more sparing with his words; he tells the story straight.

A fascinating story, well worth adding to your bookshelves.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Coming Rain
by Stephen Daisley
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781922182029

Reviews of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists

Ockham_Book_Awards_lo#26E84 (2)The finalists in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards have now been announced, giving readers 16 fine books to take a second look at, and consider among the best New Zealand books ever produced. The judges had an unenviable task, with 18 months worth of submissions considered, and of course they haven’t chosen everybody’s favourite books (wherefore no The Chimes?) , but it is a pretty fine list nonetheless.

Click the title you are interested in below to read a review, either on our blog, or if we haven’t yet had it reviewed, in another extremely reputable place.

Acorn Foundation Literary Award (Fiction) 

Unity_poetry_fiction

Image from Unity Books Wellington @unitybookswgtn

The Back of His Head, by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press)
Chappy, by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House)
Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing)
The Invisible Mile, by David Coventry (Victoria University Press)

Poetry
How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press)
The Night We Ate the Baby, by Tim Upperton (Haunui Press)
Song of the Ghost in the Machine, by Roger Horrocks (Victoria University Press)
The Conch Trumpet, by David Eggleton (Otago University Press)

General Non-Fiction

Unity_non-fiction

Image from Unity Books Wellington @unitybookswgtn

Maurice Gee: Life and Work, by Rachel Barrowman (Victoria University Press)
The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City, by Fiona Farrell (Penguin Random House)
Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood, by Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Random House)
Lost and Gone Away, by Lynn Jenner (Auckland University Press)

Illustrated Non-Fiction
Te Ara Puoro: A Journey into the World of Māori Music, by Richard Nunns (Potton and Burton)
New Zealand Photography Collected, by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press)
Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books)
Real Modern: Everyday New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum (Te Papa Press)

Enjoy these wonderful New Zealand books and share them far and wide.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by the Ockham Foundation, the Acorn Foundation, Creative New Zealand and Book Tokens Ltd. You can find out who the judges are here. The winners (including of the four Best First Book Awards) will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday May 10 2016, held as the opening night event of the Auckland Writers Festival.

The awards ceremony is open to the public for the first time. Tickets to the event can be purchased via Ticketmaster once festival bookings open on Friday 18 March. Winners of the Acorn Foundation Literary Award, for fiction, win $50,000. Winners of the other three category awards each receive $10,000, the Māori Language award $10,000, and each of the winners of the three Best First Book awards, $2,500.

by Sarah Forster, Web Editor