Book Review: Mazarine, by Charlotte Grimshaw

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_mazarine.jpgWhen Frances Sinclair loses contact with her daughter Maya, travelling in Europe with her boyfriend Joe, the Auckland writer begins to feel alarmed as, ‘It was unusual. My girl had always kept in touch’.

But when she came home to find her ex-partner Nick inside her townhouse and an assault takes place, she borrows her neighbour’s car and drives away. ‘The only idea I had was to get out of town, to go south and find a nice motel where I could decide what to do next.’

Award winning author Charlotte Grimshaw is a wonderful descriptive writer and her use of short and long sentences intensifies her writing. ‘For half an hour, the downpour slowed and there was a last showing of watery evening light, then the squalls intensified, and huge rain roared on the corrugated iron roof. Still I lay on the sofa, not moving.’

Grimshaw takes the reader on a road trip to the Waikato where Frances meets Joe’s Mum Mazarine and they share their family concerns and Frances makes a decision to fly to London. ‘I’m going to tell everyone I’m doing research for a book. And when I find the kids, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll make a start on a novel set in London and Paris.’

Following the narrative thread left by her daughter, Frances travels through cities touched by terrorism and surveillance, joined at times by Mazarine, and was it just in her imagination that she sighted Nick around London?

This is a complex read in which the author touches on many modern issues, bringing them together in a gripping novel which has enough mystery to keep the reader guessing until the end.

I enjoyed this book and anyone who enjoys reading about modern family life, and taking a deeper look inside oneself will find this a rewarding read. ‘Two selves. One understood: the situation had changed and Mazarine’s reaction was rational, there was no reason for us to stick together, after all we had just as much chance of finding our children if we separated. This self processed : words, reasons, solutions. The other self didn’t understand and wouldn’t be calmed or soothed, this other self cried out and smashed its own face and beat its hands against-.’

Even the cover of this book is a joy, the beautiful design by Kate Barraclough is fresh and original. Mazarine explains in the book, ‘A Mazarine Blue is a kind of butterfly….. …..Actually, Frances, the male of the species is deep blue, but the female Mazarine is brown, which is kind of confusing’.

Charlotte Grimshaw is based in Auckland where she writes a monthly column in Metro magazine which won her a Qantas Media Award. She has written a number of novels and short stories which are featured in the back of this book alongside three pages of reviews.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Mazarine
by Charlotte Grimshaw
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143771821

 

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Book Review: The Beat of the Pendulum: A found novel, by Catherine Chidgey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_beat_of_the_pendulumThe latest from Catherine Chidgey is a very demanding book to get into. But it is certainly worth persevering.

She describes it as a found novel – I guess that as objets trouves can form pictorial art works, so this is a collection of found words which combine to form a picture of a year in the life of the novelist and her family and friends.

When you look at a picture composed in this way it’s often quite easy to see where the pieces connect, what drew the artist to them and how the composition developed.  I found it much harder to work out the connections, particularly in the first two or three months of the book.

Also it’s perhaps a bit of a writerly conceit to say the words were found, rather than collected or recorded – surely they must have been in some format which made them easy to retrieve, given the complexity of the conversations and how well they ring true. Or else Chidgey is just remarkable at recreating these moments. Or maybe, like Topsy in the old (and not PC) story it ‘just growed’.

Many of the people in her book spring to life through these snippets of conversation. Her mother, with increasing memory loss and confusion, springs to life – but so does the way in which memory, both present and lost, affects all of us. It’s particularly poignant as Chidgey pulls no punches in how difficult, frustrating, annoying and heart-breaking it can be to live with this as part of your life.

Of course it’s not just about memory, it’s about love, friendship, child development, relationships and all of the tiny or huge interactions we have with people every day.

It’s a compelling read, and even though at times I wanted to put it down because I really could not work out who was talking at the time, I persevered. Not because there’s a tidy conclusion, but because I wanted to hear all those stories and see where they went.

As a year in the life of Catherine Chidgey and her family and friends, I think it’s an absolutely fascinating book. Take the time you need to read it. If you want to whizz through it, resist the urge. Take it slowly and you’ll be rewarded.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Beat of the Pendulum : a found novel
by Catherine Chidgey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561704

Book Review: Gabriel’s Bay, by Catherine Robertson

cv_gabriels_bayAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

At 426 pages, Gabriel’s Bay is a book that promises to fill a good few hours of reading time. So well written are the characters and the lives they lead, that I read it in just one and a half days. Catherine Robertson tells us in the book’s accompanying media release that she decided, after three hilarious chick-lit style novels, to try a new tack, focusing on what she feels good at: humour, characters and dialogue. As these are the things that most interest me when well executed, I can say that Catherine has succeeded in her stated aim.

I like that the novel is set in a recognisable New Zealand. The character who holds the whole cast together is a young man from the UK who, after making a shambles of his life at home, answers an ad for a home help in the small township of Gabriel’s Bay. Unlike some books of similar ilk, the people who live there are not cheerfully stoical and determinedly positive. They are a more realistic portrayal of the people who live in the little townships down the road from where you live, or perhaps, even, your next door neighbours in your own little township.

We get to know the characters well as as the young man becomes involved in the fabric of the village throughout the novel. Issues that we are familiar with in our own lives are dealt with in a way that fit into the story being told without dominating it or detracting from the tension the reader experiences.

Not all the ends are neatly tied at the finish just as they never are in real life, but the author has written a book that is so well tuned to real life that I, as the reader was satisfied that the characters had ended their tales on a note of optimism. I identified with each and every one of them, even the not so nice, and to me that is the mark of a story well told.

New Zealand can be proud of the work of our authors and poets. Catherine Robertson has written a novel that testifies strongly to that. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Gabriel’s Bay
by Catherine Robertson
Published by Black Swan
ISBN 9780143771456

Book Review: False River, by Paula Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_false_riverThis is a very sophisticated collection of short stories, which sit comfortably together. While many have been previously published in magazines, or read on radio, bringing them together allows the reader to appreciate the true depth of Morris’s writing. The title story, False River was a finalist in the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in the UK, and Morris is no stranger to awards for her writing.

I am not a regular reader of short stories as once I have sorted out characters and setting, I prefer to settle in for a long read. But this collection allowed me to enter each world quickly and with minimal fuss as I became engrossed by the stories. It was a revelation.

Morris knows her settings. Be it New Orleans, Mexico or Latvia, we are quickly immersed in a familiar world where small details add depth. Some stories deal with relationships such as the delightful story Isn’t It. Here we have the Auckland housing crisis meeting family mourning. The meeting of these two worlds is beautifully portrayed.

A well-chosen black and white photo follows some stories. I like the inclusion of visual art within the written text as it adds another layer for the reader. However, I was a little disappointed at the cover of the collection. The dark blue, understated cover did not live up to the quality of the stories and artwork within the  book. Even the endpapers were more creative.

I really enjoyed this collection: it seems, after a thirty-year standoff with short stories, Paula Morris has lured me back. I would pick the book up to read one story, and then sneak another too. Of course, this meant I was running late!

This is the perfect summer read. A sleep, a swim or even a small wine could follow each story.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

False River
by Paula Morris
Published by Vintage
ISBN 9780143771630

 

 

Book Review: Baby, by Annaleese Jochems

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hires_babyWow, what an amazing talent this young woman is. At all of 23 years of age, there is an urgency and energy to Annaleese Jochems’ writing. Her insight into how social media, celebrity culture, the culture of ‘me’, and how the resultant obsession with self has manipulated her generation of young people is spectacular. The result is a monster of a young woman, the 21-year-old Cynthia, whose life and existence is completely dominated by her dangerously self absorbed, meaningless and boring existence.

This novel is well and truly a modern urban cautionary fable, about that privileged and over indulged generation us oldies like to call entitled, how their perception of self is so out of whack, and the consequences when it all goes wrong. A total nut job. I have already admitted I am the wrong demographic for this novel, even though I get what is going on (I think), but my 20 year old daughter, clearly of the same demographic as Cynthia and the author thought the book way too weird to continue reading. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is weird, but it is certainly disturbing.

Cynthia has a life of nothing. She has been to university, although it is not clear if she completed her degree or dropped out. She has no job, lives at her father’s home, a man who appears to be both physically and emotionally absent, but he does have a great bank balance, spends all her time on her phone, watching movies, playing with her dog Snot-head (who calls their dog such a name?) and doing yoga. Anahera is the yoga instructor, a slightly older woman, with whom Cynthia becomes obsessed. When Anahera turns up on her doorstep claiming she has left her husband, the madness begins. After raiding her father’s bank account, they drive off to Paihia, where absurdly, they purchase a boat called Baby, living on it just off the shore of Paihia beach.

Talk about cabin fever. As the days pass, and with no fixed plan of action, they begin to run out of money, Snot-head does not take well to marine life, Anahera remains disturbingly elusive, wanting to spend all her time swimming from the boat to an off shore island. Their random existence leads them to random encounters with others, none of which end well, Cynthia increasingly out of touch with reality, out of control with her emotions and actions.

So a bizarre plot with not a single likeable or even relatable character. All using each other for their own ends, the lines of communication and connection are constantly twisted and warped. The novel is narrated entirely from Cynthia’s self-absorbed perspective, so cleverly we get to find out very little about the other characters and what is going on in their minds with the strange set up they find themselves in.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book, some very strange and disturbing stuff goes on. But as an insight into the over stimulated mind of a young person it is extraordinary. As is the quality of the writing, the low level tension held through out, beginning with the first line  “Cynthia can understand how Anahera feels just by looking at her body.”, to the last paragraph  “For now, she shifts her head from one side to the other, resting it. Time passes and the trees are silent. A small winged bug lands on her wrist then flies away. She doesn’t notice.” This is an amazing new voice in NZ writing, we should treasure and nurture her, she will go onto great things.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Baby
by Annaleese Jochems
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561667

Book Review: The New Animals, by Pip Adam

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_new_animalsPip Adam’s new book is both astute observation and raw imagining of what life is like when involved in the fashion world in Auckland. And it makes me want to run like hell in the other direction. The shallow lives of the characters, the consumption and micro-examinations of self and other (without reaching any kind of depth of understanding) seem representative of the mass consumerism and solipsism that can be found in such spheres of life.

Carla is the first character we are introduced to. She’s not altogether likeable or appealing: ‘Her skin was wrecked, her eyes, her nerves. But the powders and pills and tongue scraping and cleansing made it possible for her to pay the barista, smile at the child, look down as she left the cafe …’ Later, there is Sharona and Duey, the latter masturbating to porn in boredom and panic at work, and the former somewhat dismissive of the fashion world in which her friends have centred their lives around.

They are all purposefully awful in some way. And are they really even friends? It’s hard to say. They are always questioning what others think and reflecting on past decisions, like nervous, twitchy rats in a cage. In fact, it seems that each character just tolerates others for the sake of scraping through the shallow life that’s been chosen, whether older (Generation X) or younger: ‘ Now Carla was scoffing. He could see it, the way her mind ticked … she was wrong and now he couldn’t say anything because that would be a dick move’. The addition of a dog named Doug who pretty much wants to kill her owner Carla, and who is locked in a crappy little apartment all day has the reader feeling a real dis-ease representative of the sickness of these people’s lives.

Everyone seems to be sleeping with make-up artist Elodie, who, on the surface at least, is an easy-going pleaser. The book makes a sudden veer in the magic realist direction in the second half, when Elodie seems to have a breakdown (or revelation of truth?), and steals Doug to head out into the ocean. Literally. Well, like, literally in the book, but not, one would imagine, in the story. She encounters the grotesque on her journey, a metaphorical representation of the grotesque of the fashion world.

Even though I found it hard to enjoy when reading (I really disliked the characters and the interactions they were having, although it is of course unnecessary to always like characters) this book stayed with me. The imagery of Doug the feral dog, who was once tame, and Elodie’s oceanic experiences were haunting. The title refers to such things; this book is animalistic. I would say prepare to feel uncomfortable.

Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth

The New Animals
by Pip Adam
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561162

Book Review: The Suicide Club, by Sarah Quigley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_suicide_clubFor very different reasons, Bright, Gibby and Lace are all troubled: worn down by life, tired, depressed, and in need of intervention. Bright is the author of a surprise bestseller but feels immense pressured from the sudden fame and his dysfunctional relationship with his reverend father. Mysterious orphan Lace is beautiful, fragile and attracts men like moths to a proverbial flame. But she is unsettled. “[I]n spite of her unblemished skin and starry eyes, she’s old. From the age of eight, she’s felt as old as eh hills and it isn’t at all comfortable.” Lace’s best friend Gibby, loyal, protective and desperately in love with Lace, fears for her stability. Gibby has his own challenges that make life a burden; not least among them, witnessing Bright’s attempt to end it all by leaping from a building.

The three twenty year olds leave England in search of solace and treatment at The Palace, an experimental institution in Bavaria under the guidance of Dr Geoffrey. In their attempts to find some semblance of peace, they find love, but is love enough to save someone?

This is a beautifully, almost lyrically, written novel by New Zealand author Sarah Quigley. It is a story of love and friendship, tragedy and loss. The book dares to discuss one of society’s last taboos – the desire to end it all when life becomes too much. Quigley treats the topic with sensitivity and compassion but doesn’t flinch from confronting its harsh and haunting reality.

Although there are undoubtedly dark moments, as is probably inevitable given the title of the book, there are many wonderfully lighter moments. There is humour amongst the pain. The other characters at The Palace are quirky and funny, with some of the group therapy sessions bordering on the absurd. There is a particularly comical fight scene as Bright and Gibby compete for Lace’s affections.

Quigley also has a delightful ability to conjure up a scene with sparse but poetic description: ‘The dawn is bruised orange, the colour of over-ripe apricots.’ The Bavarian scene is almost otherworldly and dreamlike.

This is a haunting and thoughtful story, a very clever novel.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Suicide Club
by Sarah Quigley
Published by Vintage New Zealand
ISBN 9780143771012