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) 


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)

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


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

Going West Writer’s Festival: Plumbing the Depths

rachel_barrowmanWith shiny new books at my hip, I re-entered the hall to hear Rachel Barrowman, in conversation with Geoff Chapple (Gee’s cousin), about her biography of Maurice Gee. This was a fascinating talk about a man who they described in turns as mild-mannered and self-assured, with a sensitivity at odds with the often disturbing subjects of which he writes. A complex man, and a prolific writer, whose work is oftentimes an iteration of the darkness that is accompanist to life, even in childhood.

Barrowman and Chapple chattered about the centrality of the creek and the kitchen to Gee’s boyhood, the trials of his adolescence (it seems Gee’s mother was a ‘secular puritan’, and this rubbed off on her son). They spoke about his turbulent on-off relationship with Hera Smith, with whom he had a child; about his jobs as teacher, postie, hospital porter and librarian. They chronicled his overseas spells, and his eventual meeting with Margaretha Garden, who would become his wife and the mother of two daughters.

Gee’s writings were discussed too, with it noted that Gee had been on the writing path since sixteen, inspired, in part, by a year reading Charles Dickens. Discussion turned to Plumb, with Barrowman and Chapple teasing out family biography from fiction.

This was a very interesting event, but somewhat awkward to behold. Chapple unremittingly cut through Barrowman’s speech, to the visible exasperation of some of the audience. Barrowman did not seem overly fazed by these disturbances, and the session generated what was largely intelligent and nuanced dialogue.

Event attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Book Review: Maurice Gee: life and work, by Rachel Barrowman

Available now in bookstores nationwide. cv_maurice_gee_life_and_work

Maurice Gee is held in great respect by a vast number of readers both in NZ and around the world. He has published 32 novels, for adults and younger readers. I have read most of them and thought I knew a bit about his work.

Well, whatever tiny amount that was, Rachel Barrowman has multiplied it ten thousand times, at least.

This large (543pp) work is a comprehensive interweaving of Gee’s life and work – inseparable as they are – and a really great addition to the work available on NZ writers.

It is a scholarly work: Barrowman explores Maurice Gee’s work in the context of his personal and family history and how that affected his attitudes and his work. Relationships with other NZ literary greats – Charles Brasch, Maurice Shadbolt, to name only two – and with his varied publishers and editors provide fascinating insights into how the literary world worked; sometimes not as smoothly as one would like, it would appear.

The picture which appears of Maurice Gee the writer is inextricably entwined with Maurice Gee the man, as every aspect of his creative life is examined alongside pertinent events in his personal life; connections are cleverly and perspicaciously made between real life and fiction, between one novel and another, between place in Gee’s life and upbringing, and place in his novels. One is easily identifiable as the other, or at least as part of the other, as you read through this fascinating book.

The relationships which Gee had particularly with his mother – but also with other family members – had a profound effect, not only on how he saw the world, but on how he wrote about it – not that this is unusual for a writer of fiction. But Rachel Barrowman writes with a wealth of information and a depth of understanding that makes Maurice Gee and his family and friends really come alive.

The strong family link to writing, the teaching for which he was not cut out, the difficult relationship with his first serious girlfriend, the time had in Napier as City Librarian which didn’t end well (and in which Napier Library was the loser), the tough decisions made to give up work to concentrate on full-time writing, the staunch support of Margareta throughout, the family, the travels, the dynamics of the weird and wonderful world of literary fiction – all of it was mixed and blended, reworked, pulled apart and turned into a prodigious output of really good novels.

It s a seriously good book. While Rachel Barrowman’s sentences are quite complicated, and I found myself having to go back several times to parse them, that could be because much of my current reading is fiction designed for teenage readers: hardly a complex clause to be found!

And I’d like to mention the brilliant indexing of Tordis Flath – it helps enormously with managing the large cast present in this work.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in the work of Maurice Gee – you’ll learn a great deal about the writer as well as his wonderful novels.

Reviewed by Susan Esterman, Library Manager, Scots College

Maurice Gee: life and work
by Rachel Barrowman
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739926