Book Review: Swimming in the Dark, by Paddy Richardson

Available now from all booksellers

This merging of the cv_swimming_in_the_darkstories of two distinct families in different locations and times into one interacting tale of misery, fear, hate and hurt, resolves the unfolding drama in a most satisfactory way. Between their two stories are common themes − fear of imposed authority and abuse of power. These themes drive characters and events onward towards the inevitable end.

The Freemans are a dysfunctional family, with no permanent father figure, a mother who seeks comfort in drink and dubious liaisons, two young adult sons who pretend to work but prefer to deal, the older daughter who ran away from home years ago, and Serena, a young girl who is targeted by the town’s sexual predator but cannot face revealing this.

The Kleins are a family of mother and daughter, the last of a family of refugees from post-Cold War East Germany − Leipzig. Since arriving in New Zealand, age has taken the father and Oma and Opa (grandma and grandad), leaving Gerda, a former maternity nurse, still believing sometimes that old Russian-controlled Leipzig was a better place, but sometimes wracked with guilt by the discoveries of what the Russian Stasi had been doing to the populace without her knowing. Her daughter Ilse teaches at the local secondary school, and has been nurturing Serena’s unrecognized scholastic ability, giving her hope of getting away to university.

The story’s swimming refers to the river, a gathering place for teens and families in summer, and Ilse’s place for swimming alone at night. Serena realizes the teens are being watched by a respected member of the community from the bridge, but she feels uncomfortable. His attention towards her escalates to the level of sexual abuse, and rape. She hides the resulting pregnancy as long as she can.

Ilse, out one evening for her usual swim, discovers Serena in the beginning stages of labour, alone, frightened and in pain. She is terrified to let anyone know, so Gerda draws on her skills to successfully deliver Serena’s baby.

The rapist father, still watching for her, discovers where she is in hiding. How Ilse and Gerda deal with his aggressive arrival in their home is a triumph of rights over fear and victimization, leaving this reader wanting to yell in triumph. The story’s conclusion leaves the right characters in the right situation for each, in a most satisfactory ending.

Reviewed by Lynne Street

Swimming in the Dark
by Paddy Richardson
Published by Upstart Press,
ISBN: 9781927262054

 

Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival – Chain Reaction

“Chain Reaction” was one of the earliespp_philippa_duffyt events on offer during the inaugural Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival—in fact it preceded the official opening. But I, as a booklover, was very happy to see that didn’t stop a big crowd turning up (in inclement weather, no less) for this six-launches-in-one event. After drinks and nibbles, Philippa Duffy (pictured) from University Book Shop opened proceedings and introduced the writers whose books were being launched—David Eggleton, Vincent O’Sullivan, Breton Dukes, Paddy Richardson, Owen Marshall, and David Howard.

Unfortunately, the night started on a somewhatcv_born_to_a_red-headed_woman sombre note. Kay McKenzie Cooke had been scheduled to also attend the event in order to launch her third poetry collection, Born to a Red Headed Woman. However her mother—the ‘red-headed woman’ of her collection’s title—very recently passed away. Rachel Scott from Otago University Press spoke on Kay’s behalf, and read “Family Tree” from her collection.

David Eggleton’s address was jovial and lively, in support of the latest issue of Landfall, going strong since 1947 and, in David’s words, “like Aorangi [Mt Cook]… a landmark” in Kiwi letters. Although themed around “vital signs”, Issue 227 sounds like quite a varied smorgasbord cv_the_familiesof delights (or as David put it, “a cabaret between covers”!). There’s poetry from 34 poets, an essay on the word ‘Solomon’, and a suite of paintings by Mark Braunias.

Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press then introduced Vincent O’Sullivan and Breton Dukes. Vincent spoke first, and quipped that, given that the writers stood on the mezzanine level of the venue while most of the crowd stood below, “this will the closest any of us will get to the Sermon on the Mount!” Then, while he was in the midst of thanking VUP and Fergus Barrowman for their support of his new short story collection The Families, his cellphone rang. Oops.cv_empty_bones_and_other_stories

Breton Dukes read from his new book Empty Bones And Other Stories, which was the product of two years’ hard work. He described a short story as an immediate “transport system” to the experience or revelation of a character. He also described some of the stories in his collection. As a student, I was amused to hear there’s one about getting drunk and stealing a car from outside Poppa’s Pizza, the local pizza joint opposite the University’s main library. Nothing like a bit of local flavour!

Paddy Richardson also read from cv_swimming_in_the_darkher new book, called Swimming in the Dark and published by Upstart Press. The passage she read, which detailed her German protagonist’s sense of displacement in New Zealand, was evocative and certainly held the audience’s attention.

Owen Marshall was there to launch Carnival Sky (Vintage). In particular, he singled out his long time editor Anna Rogers for thanks, as well as the Henderson Arts Trust, which granted him a residency in Alexandra that enabled him to finish Carnival Sky. (Incidentally, a significant portion of that novel is set in Alexandra.)

Finally David Howard read from his new chapbook The Speak House, which imagines thecv_carnival_sky fevered thoughts and memories of Robert Louis Stevenson in the last hours of his life—what David described as Stevenson’s “mental disarray”.

All the speakers thanked the organisers of the DWRF for organising the event. Fergus Barrowman went a step further and thanked them for bringing the festival back, and foretold (hopefully correctly!) that the DWRF would be an important fixture in Dunedin’s calendar in the future. Hear hear!

Event reported by Febriani Idrus, freelance writer and student 

Book review: Cross Fingers by Paddy Richardson

cv_cross_fingersThis book is in bookstores now

If asked to produce a television documentary on the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, how would you go about putting a new spin on it when it’s been hashed and rehashed in news media so many times? That’s a quandary faced by Rebecca Thorne, television journalist, in a gripping story of sleuthing, old case files, stalking and personal danger, as she strives to find not only a ‘new angle’ but once found, to follow it up and learn how it was resolved.

Paddy Richardson puts us in Rebecca’s place, and we follow the leads, interview the relevant parties to the acts of rebellion and hostility during the tour, read police interview files from the time, and meet some of the families and people who took part in the tour protests (or in the police Squads).

This was a thoroughly enjoyable, “not putting it down till I’ve finished” read. Richardson’s intriguing plot line allows her to use the technique of slipping “old files” into the current story line smoothly and realistically; no sense of a producer calling “cut” between takes old and new. And the “old files” are so realistically like a police report they are utterly believable.

Her unique twist on an historical event is conveyed in such a believable style I’ve caught myself Wiki’ing the tour and the police squads and protests. She has sparked something – I have a question I can’t mention here as it would be a spoiler if I did. And this is one book I’d suggest parents buy for their offspring too young to have been aware of how that tour affected New Zealand. It’s fiction, sure – but Richardson provides real food for thought better than any History teacher ever could!

I don’t usually “rate” with my reviews, but for Cross Fingers I will – 10 out of 10, for readability, for a well-told twist of crime vis-á-vis community and for writing a crime story in a unique style.

Reivewed by Lynne Street

Cross Fingers
by Paddy Richardson
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9781869713072 (trade paperback)
ISBN 9781869713072 (e-book)