Book Review: The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox

Available in bookshops nationwide from 12 September 2019
The Launch is at Unity Books on Thursday, 12 September

cv_the_absolute_bookElizabeth Knox’s thirteenth novel promises fantasy on a grand scale from the outset, with its brave title, heft, and illustrative cover; yet turn the pages and the reader is transported into the opening of a juicy crime thriller. Thus begins an unpredictable and intelligent work of imagination that plunges the reader ever deeper into a modern world interwoven within a realm of fantasy and folklore.

The story follows Taryn Cornick, a successful writer from England, whose recent literary acclaim and marriage to a wealthy and thoughtful husband should be enviable, yet are overshadowed by the loss of her older sister in a hit-and-run incident. Unable to reconcile herself with the punishment meted out by the justice system, she sets the wheels in motion for her own revenge – and unwittingly, her damnation. What ensues is a kaleidoscopic tale of her salvation by Shift, a misfit from a seemingly utopian parallel world, and a band of characters encountered along the way. Could Taryn’s latest book, inspired by the library of her late grandfather provide the key to what everyone – and everything is so desperately seeking?

This book was unexpectedly fast-paced: I could almost feel the author grabbing me by the shirtfront and ripping me through the portals of this labyrinthine fantasy. The relaxed writing style and sensory descriptions give the story as much ease and addictiveness as a holiday paperback, but without compromising on intellect. Knox aligns her story and characters in our current social, cultural and environmental state, and uses the fantasy realms to question and highlight, horrify and add humour to the ultimate questions, and challenges we face. Taryn’s reality, past and present, unravels to the reader in patterns that begin with something seemingly idyllic which is inevitably corrupt or corrupted. The same goes for the fantasy realm of Knox’s story – the utopian society is riddled with flaws, the demons are more sinned against than sinning, and Purgatory shares our frustrations with public transport and healthcare.

This is the kind of book you keep on your shelf for years to come, and discover new depths each time you re-read it. Anyone who enjoys the bounty and beauty of J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and the far-from-perfect characters of Neil Gaiman will appreciate the depth of imagination, and level of critical thinking that has been poured into this book. Even Taryn’s rare slip in word use, which momentarily unveils her New Zealand creator, can be forgiven. It reminds the reader this is not an English import, it is a New Zealand writer at the top of their game.

Reviewed by Lynette Hartgill

The Absolute Book
by Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776562305

AWF18: Ode to Ursula, with Elizabeth Knox, David Larsen and Karen Joy Fowler

AWF18: Ode to Ursula, with Elizabeth Knox, David Larsen and Karen Joy Fowler

‘In memory of the extraordinary Ursula Le Guin, writers and fans Karen Joy Fowler and Elizabeth Knox join David Larsen to share stories of their first encounters with her work and explore the legacy of the writer David Mitchell describes as a “crafter of fierce, focused, fertile dreams”.’

Illustrated notes taken by Tara Black.

AWF18 13 Le Guin

Illustrated notes copyright Tara Black

NZF Writers & Readers: Elizabeth Knox and Francis Spufford talk about God

Tara Black reviews Francis Spufford & Elizabeth Knox talking about God. Image copyright Tara Black. 

Francis Spufford penned a heartfelt memoir about the appeal of the unknowable in Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.

He’s a longtime friend and correspondent of Wellington fantasy writer Elizabeth Knox (The Vintner’s Luck, the Dreamhunter duet).

NWF18 Francis Spufford and Elizabeth Knox

 

Elizabeth Knox is in Horror! Horror! on Saturday, 10 March at 4.15pm. If you’re really quick, you might be able to get tickets still!

Here is our review of Francis Spufford from yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: After Z-Hour, by Elizabeth Knox

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Icv_after_z_hour had never previously read Elizabeth Knox, despite her being one of New Zealand’s most admired writers, but this is about to change. This story drew me in and simply wouldn’t let me go.

There was nothing I didn’t like, the characters were strong, real and very well-developed, the plot line went in and out of the time frames seamlessly, and Knox had obviously put a lot of time into her research. I have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction related to the Great War, and Knox has got this period and the horror of the experience spot on.

Seventy years after a young returned serviceman dies, six young people stranded by nightmarish weather get to chatting and sharing bits of their own stories when a mysterious seventh voice joins the conversation. Here, the natural and the supernatural come together and really give this tale a bite, and the reader is taken on a most interesting journey, one that is filled with twists and turns of the mind kind, the kind that leave you thinking “God, what next?”

The writing is lush, vivid and powerful, gritty words where needed, pretty words where needed.

The characters draw you into the story and hold you, while the introduction of the seventh voice completes the process. Once both have got you, there is no backing out, you are captured by the story, and there is no putting this book down until the last page.

Love and compassion, empathy and understanding are on the pages of this book. The understanding Knox has of the power of war experiences is quite remarkable. Many of the experiences and emotional consequences of war are only now being acknowledged, as veterans return from the frontline, and occasionally, commit horrendous crimes.

I loved this book. Along with Anthony Doer’s All the Light we Cannot See, it will rank as one of my best reads this year, and the best part is, it was the last thing I expected. Thank you Elizabeth Knox.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

After Z-Hour
by Elizabeth Knox
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739230

Do you love international YA literature? Kiwis do it just as well!

Since Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, people have become more aware of the quality of our local fiction. Which is amazing. But did you know that our YA fiction is of the same quality as much that is produced overseas? No? Well let me educate you about a few of our top YA novelists writing right now.

Trilogies and series’
First of all – trilogies and series’. Internationally, trends have driven our teens through magical boarding schools (Harry Potter), paranormal and vampires (Twilight), dystopias (The Hunger Games), and extreme political situations (Divergent). Note that not only did these trilogies sell incredibly high volumes, they have also become films.

cv_juno_of_tarisLet me begin with one of my favourites. Fleur Beale wrote an incredible trilogy from 2008, beginning with Juno of Taris, about the life of a girl who was born into an isolated island community. This community is under a bubble, to protect them from the environment which they are led to believe by their ruling elders has been polluted to unliveable standards. The book questions the accepted, it has a gutsy heroine, and it has just a glimmer of magic to boot. The three books are Juno of Taris, Fierce September, and Heart of Darkness (all published by Random House).

cv_dreamhunterIf you want magical realism (think Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Margaret Mahy), you cannot go past Dreamhunter / Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox. The world of Southland draws you in, and makes you feel like anything is possible. I remember reading this for the first time, and wishing so much that I was reading it aged 13 or 14, simply to be closer to what I was like then, ready to believe that dreams were catchable, that magic was real. This has more recently been supplemented with Mortal Fire (Gecko Press), which is itself due a sequel one day!

cv_the_crossing_tnMandy Hager writes trilogies and stand-alone books with equal aplomb. The trilogy that comes to mind as an excellent dystopia based on an extreme political situation, is ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ series. Composed of The Crossing, Into the Wilderness, and Resurrection, the trilogy is prefaced on a ‘last survivor’ cult that operates from a ship in the Pacific Ocean. The storyline covers racial inequality, political persecution, and other broad dystopian themes. It is hard-hitting, and wonderfully written.

Our own John Greens
In terms of stand-alone, issues-based novels, there are few hotter right now than John Green. With his abilities on social media, and his hard-hitting topics, he is a hard one to beat. But I would say that there are several of our very own authors who come close.

cv_see_ya_simonFor instance, David Hill. One of David Hill’s first massive publishing successes (in 1992) was See Ya, Simon, in which the narrator’s best friend is a boy with muscular dystrophy, who doesn’t have long to live. This book was picked up around the world, and has been translated into many languages. David has written around 30 YA titles, all with strong believable characters, dealing with recognisable teenage emotions and dramas. (Others I would recommend are Duet, and My Brother’s War).

cv_the_nature_of_ashMandy Hager also comes to mind when thinking about health issues, with books like The Nature of Ash, which sees a teenage boy struggling with caring for his Downs Syndrome-suffering brother, while navigating the apocalypse. More recently, Dear Vincent, deals head-on with death of a sibling; as does Anna Mackenzie’s The Shadow of the Mountain.

Let me also mention Kate De Goldi, with her crossover award-winner The 10pm Question. Also Penelope Todd, with the trilogy Watermark (still available in e-book format), which itself is faintly reminiscent of something more otherworldly, classic children’s trilogy The Halfmen of O, by Maurice Gee. While on the topic of Gee, let me just recommend the Salt Trilogy – it is rather wonderful.

Can you tell how much I love kiwi dystopian YA trilogies?

The Children and Young Adults’ Book Awards
WhenWeWake_CVR_128x198x21.5_FA.inddThe YA section of the New Zealand Children’s and Young Adults’ Book awards is always strong, and I always wonder how the judges can possibly choose a winner. This year, Karen Healey was one of the contenders. Healey is somebody you cannot fail to mention while discussing and recommending current kiwi YA fiction. Author of four books, two of which are part of the When We Wake trilogy, she is one to watch for her very real teenage voices. Pick it up.

If you like your YA set in the past, Tania Roxborogh and Anna Mackenzie are both ones to watch. Each have written broadly about teen themes, so they aren’t one-trick ponies, but I would recommend Banquo’s Son and the others incv_cattras_legacy Roxborogh’s trilogy for those who like their teenage problems with a 12th-century dramatic twist; while Mackenzie has two titles in the Cattra’s Legacy trilogy out so far, set in medieval times.

For action along the lines of Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series, but keeping it kiwi, you can’t go far wrong with Brian Falkner. He has been publishing great action books for teens for many years now, and is currently in the midst of a series called Recon Team Angel. One stand-alone that I must recommend, from a few years ago, is Brain Jack. I seem to remember reading it over a few hours when I got my hands on it. Another author to check out both current and past titles of along these lines is Ken Catran – he writes stand-alone books packed with drama and excitement.

The wonderful thing about writers of YA in New Zealand is that I haven’t met one I didn’t like. They are humble and generous, while writing these incredible books that transport teenagers all over New Zealand into different worlds. Let’s hope that the melding of Random House and Penguin doesn’t interrupt this incredible industry. Or perhaps it will prompt the creation of a new company: does anybody fancy starting a new publishing house dedicated to good-quality kiwi YA?

By Sarah Forster

People I haven’t mentioned, who are also worth looking up (i.e. I think this piece is long enough): Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else, R.L Steadman, David Hair, V. M Jones, Jack Lasenby, Ted Dawe, Joy Cowley, Adele Broadbent, Melinda Szymanik, Alison Robertson, Maryanne Scott, Sherryl Jordan (I loved her writing as a kid), and newcomer Rachael Craw. If there are more I have missed, please add your recommendations in the comments!

The Margaret Mahy Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox – WORD Festival, Sun 31 August

Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, by Elizabeth Knox
An Unreal House Filled with Real Storms

I am a pretty gregarious person. I approach people at events; I call people on the phone. (When left on my own for more than a few hours, I go mad and start serenading my pet rats.) I am a natural networker, and literary events like writers festivals are like catnip to me: I get to talk to other readers, to meet authors I’ve read and discover others I’d like to read, to buy books and get them freshly signed. Having a media pass is even better − I get to interview people, hobnob with celebrities, and tune my curious book-reviewing brain to live events. My usual festival MO is to constantly make myself available for interesting conversations.

When Elizabeth Knox’s lecture ended, I did none of these things. I couldn’t wait to get out of the room. I saw many people I knew, who I enjoy conversing with, but I approached none of them. I headed straight outside into the calming Christchurch cold and towards the cardboard cathedral.

I didn’t know what to think. It was just before 11 in the morning on a Sunday and my mind was in whirring turmoil. What had I just experienced? Some kind of profound and disruptive event of the mind. I wasn’t ready to be around other people, wasn’t ready to discuss the experience we’d all just had. I couldn’t even put it into words in my own head. And why was I striding so desperately towards the cathedral? I am an atheist, and have never, from my compulsory-Catholicism childhood onwards, viewed houses of worship as places of consolation.

Perhaps it was that Knox had spoken so matter-of-factly about experiencing the presence of god in her own life; doing what she had credited Mahy with; “making the supernatural natural”. Perhaps it was because, when Kate De Goldi came back onstage to do the end-of-event wrap-up, she suggested that, rather than ask questions, the audience just file silently out, as from a church. We did. Many of us had been crying.

Either way, I was stymied. It was a Sunday morning and the cathedral was being used for its primary purpose: there was a service on, and I didn’t want to join in. So I walked around outside, touched the cardboard, admired the stark, fresh lines of the architecture, and listened to the singing − borrowed sounds of beauty and calm.

I thought about Knox, about her talking about the experience Mahy had had on her as a reader: “she opened up a room in New Zealand literature that I wanted to hang out in”. And I thought about how the same is true of my discovery of Knox. I was living in England and feeling a bit distanced from New Zealandness. One day in a bookshop I discovered a book that had been written by a fellow Kiwi called Elizabeth: The Vintner’s Luck. I bought and read it.

It was so strange, almost uncomfortable. Was it literary fiction? Fantasy? Paranormal slash? (One of my favourite Knox quotes is a tweet she once sent: “I am a genre-tunneling monster!”) Was it New Zealand literature? It wasn’t set in Aotearoa and it didn’t have that NZ lit feel at all. But in that book I met something, someone, that has stayed with me ever since. Knox opened up a room for me in New Zealand literature that I value enormously. I revisit it whenever I need to be prodded in the mind, pushed off my comfortable perch and forced to fly. Knox’s writing reminds me that the world is strange and that I can be better in it. Ehara koe i a ia, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Knox’s inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘An Unreal House Filled With Real Storms’, will be coming to national radio soon, and Knox promises to publish it as prose as well. Make sure you go there.

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher

www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

Supernaturally – Laini Taylor and Elizabeth Knox, WORD Christchurch, 31 August

Laini Taylor is one of my writing idols. When her attendance at the WORDword-LainiTaylor
Christchurch festival was announced I was absolutely delighted. I would like to think I was among the first to purchase my ticket for this event − in which she and Elizabeth Knox discuss the supernatural world of Young Adult writing. This discussion was hosted by local speculative
fiction writer, Helen Lowe.

I enjoy the panel-style format such as this, where it rather resembles a friendly discussion, to which I am a welcome eavesdropper. The camaderie between Elizabeth, Laini and Helen was open and friendly, and it was
wonderful to see that each participant was familiar with the other’s
work. Neither dominated the discussion and comments bounced back and
forth in a lively, animated manner.

Helen’s questions were insightful, both to readers and aspiring authors. She began with asking why they create supernatural/fantastic worlds – in which Laini admitted to tricking people into reading high fantasy (her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy starts from an urban fantasy
perspective). Elizabeth attributed it to her older sister, who made the world magical. Other topics took us through the laws of magic, the hero’s journey trope (which elizabeth_knoxneither author follow consciously), and other such popular Young Adult themes as strong female characters, insta-love and love triangles. Elizabeth Knox (left)  described the latest trend towards paranormal romance as “the cuckoo laid in the nest of fantasy”.

I also learned that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, one of the
best I have ever read, began when Laini was seeking relief from a
challenging novel and began with free writing and discovery of the
characters of Karou and Brimstone. Certainly a most serendipitous
occurance, and one that I (and I imagine many others) am most grateful
for. Writing a novel, she informed us, is a little like swimming from
buoy to buoy, capturing spontaneity in short bursts.

Overall, a very rewarding discussion that both intrigued me as a reader
and inspired me as a writer. I could have listened to the two of them
all day!

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist and reviewer for Booksellers NZ