DWRF: Catherine Chidgey, with Emma Neale

Each time the Writers & Readers Festival comes to town, the Dunedin autumn becomes clear, still and nuanced. Catherine Chidgey sat on stage this Sunday afternoon and embodied the qualities of the season.

cv_the_wish_child_nzThe festival audience was treated to an articulate conversation between Chidgey and Emma Neale, herself a poised speaker and talented writer. The word and thought chemistry between the two speakers was significant, and it enabled a depth of response from Chidgey on such topics as the tug of Germany, the novelist’s craft and the thirteen-year gestation of her new novel, The Wish Child.

Neale began with an autobiography of Chidgey the writer, and a description of her particular talents. This was an excellent way to bring the audience into the circle of conversation. Chidgey then read a long passage from The Wish Child; this drew the listeners in closer still, and provided context for the ongoing discussion (as well as convincing anyone sensible that this was a book to buy and read in its entirety).

The scene that was read was laden with sensual, often visceral detail ‘…the glittering callipers above his skull…’ ‘…the bees huddled in their hives… and the geese hung by their necks…’ and foreshadowing ‘German boys should be brave… should know that some things had to die’; this combination of delicate detail and exaggerated description is deliberate on the part of Chidgey, and a feature of her best writing. There are echoes of Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum here. The effect is a sense of constant unease for the reader, a feeling that death lives inside ripe matter. This style of writing, of perceiving is entirely appropriate to the subject of the novel: Nazi Germany and its aftermath, a time when bizarre, exaggerated things happened and became part of daily life.

berlin-1816944_960_720.jpgDuring the course of a very swift hour, with fingers fluttering in a Lynchian sort of way, Chidgey laid out the processes involved in writing The Wish Child: her connection to Germany based on time spent there as a shy high school student from Lower Hutt, then on a scholarship in Berlin not long after the fall of the wall, being affected by the visible history in a city still divided. She spoke of the balance to be found between writing and researching, so that the latter doesn’t dominate unduly yet is given the opportunity to shape the narrative. She spoke of the scope of this novel being larger than any she had written previously, of how life events intervene, of how writing Facebook posts about cats had distracted her at times… cue knowing laughter from the audience. Now she works two jobs and has a toddler, so 6am has become the time to write, which has not been a bad thing, ‘as the internal censor does not yet seem to be on!’

When Emma Neale closed the session with the question, ‘And what next?’ Chidgey was able to allude to two projects in progress, which was reassuring; from a selfish point of view, it is good to think that after The Wish Child there will be more from the still, clear, nuanced mind of a fine, fine writer.

Attended and reviewed by Aaron Blaker on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Ed’s note: Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child (VUP) and Emma Neale’s Billy Bird (are both up for the Acorn Foundation Literary Award at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards on Tuesday evening. You can see Chidgey at various events during the Auckland Writers Festival. You can similarly, see Neale at the Auckland Writers Festival next week.

The Wish Child
by Catherine Chidgey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560622

Billy Bird
by Emma Neale
Published by Vintage NZ
ISBN 9780143770053

Book Review: The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_wish_child_nzI don’t quite know where to begin – this book is a tour de force, a work of art, an insightful commentary on the horrors and pointlessness of war and violence, a love story, a shocking peephole on to the Nazi modus operandi and so beautifully written that it hurts.

I found that I was by turns immensely saddened, then amused, horrified, having moments of “Oh, I know THAT person”, and caught up in the stories of the main characters and the enigmatic voiceover who pulls it all together.

I don’t want to give any spoilers at all, it’s far too good a novel for that.

However I will tell you that the stories are told through the voices of the children, Erich and Sieglinde, who live with their families in Leipzig and Berlin respectively. Chidgey’s descriptions of life under bombing and destruction is a poignant reminder that in war everyone suffers, regardless.

Catherine Chidgey has written a novel which is gripping from start to finish, which has twists and turns and surprises, and which I consider to be one of the best novels I have read this year. Actually, maybe one of the best novels I have read, period.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Wish Child
by Catherine Chidgey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560622

Books I’m Giving This Christmas by Stella Chrysostomou

Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed have just opened VOLUME, Nelson’s newest bookshop. Between them, they have decades of experience in bookselling, and Stella has been on our board for many years. Here is what Stella is buying for her friends and family this Christmas.  And you can win them: just tell us one book you plan to buy for Christmas in the comments, and/or over on Facebook!

Heap House, by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books) 9781471401572
cv_heap_housepb
After hearing Edward Carey at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in May, I was fascinated by his description of the world of the Iremongers, and this has been the find of the year for intriguing and excellent children’s writing. The third in the trilogy, Lungdon, has just been published, but start with Heap House. In the opening pages we are introduced to the unusual Iremonger family, who live on the outskirts of London where they collect and sift the rubbish which has grown into great moving heaps with a life-force all of its own. Meet Clod and the serving girl, Lucy, and begin an adventure of twists and turns, the unexpected and surprising. The language is captivating, the world is fascinating and the plot is both philosophical and beguiling. Great as a read-aloud, for summer family reading, and for 12+. Sarah Forster interviewed him earlier in the year, if you are keen to learn more.

The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey (VUP) 9781776560622
cv_the_wish_child_nz
Recently released, Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child is a stunning portrayal of war-time Germany through the eyes of two children, Sieglinde, from a middle-class family in Berlin, and Erich, from a farm near Leipzig. Theirs is a story of secrets, fear and overwhelming loyalty – for both the right and wrong reasons – a story that plays out in an atmosphere of paranoia and loss. Yet there is beauty in the small details and the happenstance relationship between Sieglinde and Erich. Chidgey’s novel is reminiscent of Jenny Erpenbeck’s End of Days; it’s beautifully crafted, building tension and foreboding and never letting the reader off the hook. The narrator’s voice is one of haunting sadness, all-telling yet allusive. The Wish Child is a must-read for this summer.

This Model World, by Anthony Byrt (AUP) 9781869408589
cv_this_modern_worldIf you are looking to keep abreast of developments in contemporary NZ art, go no further than Anthony Byrt’s This Model World. Immensely readable, Byrt combines serious art discussion with his own personal take on our contemporary artists, as well as letting us into his world as a critic. Drawn from interviews conducted at the artists’ studios, the conversations flow and we are given an insight into what compels these artists to make, how they frame themselves in the world, and the ideas they discuss through their work. Artists include Shane Cotton, Judy Millar, Peter Robinson and Yvonne Todd. This Model World is remarkable in its ability to be simultaneously very personal and informative, with Byrt intertwining his own life into these observations about art and the place of art in our lives.

Hotel, by Joanna Walsh and Dust, by Michael Marder (Bloomsbury Academic) 9781628924732 and 9781628925586
cv_hotelBig ideas can come in small packages (a principle we represent at VOLUME!), and the books in the excellent ‘Object Lessons’ series published by Bloomsbury each take an everyday object (bread, hood, password, bookshelf, silence, &c) and explore the deep strata of meaning and cultural resonance inherent in that object but to which we are usually blinded through familiarity. Favourites read so far include Hotel by the incomparable Joanna Walsh (which correlates the breakdown of her marriage with her time spent as a hotel reviewer, and plays rigorously with the idea of the hotel and with the idea of home that is its complement and shadow) and Dust by Michael Marder (which explores the philosophical weight of the universal substance which is comprised of things that have lost both identity and form).

cv_children-of-the-new-worldChildren of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (Text Publishing) 9781925498387
The debut short story collection, Children of the New World, is the brainchild of American writer Alexander Weinstein. The opening story, ‘Saying Goodbye to Yang’, sees a family sitting around the dining table watching Yang, a sophisticated big brother robot, malfunction. In the story ‘Children of The New World’ a couple live a virtual existence, complete with two perfect children, a nice suburban house and everything is wonderful until they venture into the Dark City. Their adventuring brings a virus into their perfect world, creating chaos. Many of the characters in the stories are disconnected from each other and from place, addicted to their programmes, technological implants, computer generated improvements and virtual worlds. Weinstein gives us wry stories – many are darkly funny – which question our obsession with technology, social media, perfection, identity and our desire to recreate ourselves. Set in a near-future this collection is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Hand-Coloured New Zealand, by Peter Alsop (Potton & Burton) 9780947503154
cv_handcoloured_new_zealandHand-Coloured New Zealand is a stunning publication from the dream team of Peter Alsop and publisher, Potton & Burton. From 1945, Whites Aviation produced the best hand-coloured photographs. This book is a tribute to the expertise of the company that produced these works, to the photographers and colourists whose work was exquisite. There are in-depth chapters about Leo White, the company founder; Clyde Stewart, chief photographer and head of colouring; and my favourite entitled ‘One of the Girls’ about Grace Rawson and her work as a colourist at Whites. The book is generously illustrated; many images will be familiar, either glimpsed on an aunt’s wall or as large-scale photographs in public buildings. This beautifully produced publication is a must for collectors, photographers and for anyone interested in New Zealand’s social history.

by Stella Chrysotomou