29/05/2017 09:10 PM

The Writer's Toolkit

All writers can do with an occasional tune-up. Our 5-week writing course The Writer's Toolkit, led by the inspirational Michelanne Forster, begins on June 8th. Places are limited to ensure individual attention. Click here to find out more

Here a few books from our shelves that would be good additions to any writer's shelf:
Syllabus: Notes from an accidental professor by Lynda Barry       $35
Barry teaches a method of writing that focuses on the relationship between the hand, the brain, and spontaneous images, both written and visual. Collaged texts, ballpoint-pen doodles, and watercolor washes adorn Syllabus 's yellow lined pages, which offer advice on finding a creative voice and using memories to inspire the writing process.
Confabulations by John Berger         $21
"Language is a body, a living creature, and this creature's home is the inarticulate as well as the articulate."
Literature Class by Julio Cortázar           $44
Cortázar's novels and short stories ignited a whole generation of Latin American writers, and had an enthusiastic following through the Americas and Europe. In this series of masterclasses he discusses his approach to the problems and mechanisms of fiction writing: the short story form, fantasy and realism, musicality, the ludic, time and the problem of literary "fate". 
"Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed." —Pablo Neruda

The Elements of Eloquence: How to turn the perfect English phrase by Mark Forsyth         $23
Why are some ways of saying things better than others? The Elements of Eloquence is a relentlessly entertaining guide to the figures of speech that are the neglected sharp end of rhetoric. Forsyth believes our overconcentration on content has blinded us to the craft of making even banal statements memorable and effective. For example, I now know that when I say, “Get off the computer and ready to go,” I am employing syllepsis, a flower of rhetoric, and am not just being an old nag.
Calamities by Renee Gladman              $30
Gladman's essays start out being about not very much, small ordinary particulars of Gladman’s life, or small observations such as a poet might make about the ordinary particulars of life, but really they are not so much about these things as they are about the writing about these things, that is to say about the relationship of a writer to her experience and to her work and about her trying to decide what sort of relationship there might be, both actually and ideally, between this experience of hers and this work.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr       $28
Synthesises her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and "black belt sinner," providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahari         $33
Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterwards, true mastery had always eluded her. Seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for 'a trial by fire, a sort of baptism' into a new language and world. There, she began to read and to write - initially in her journal - solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.
Write to the Centre: Navigating life with gluestick and words by Heen Lehndorf      $35
Create your own series of 'personal books' that provide a home for your mind, savouring life's moments with scissors and gluestick at the ready. 
Juicy Writing: Inspiration and techniques for young writers by Brigit Lowry             $24
Being a writer is good because you get paid to write stuff up, you can stay home and work in your pajamas and you get to travel because it's research. Being a writer is bad when you're sitting all by yourself staring at a blank page. Brigid Lowry knows the highs and lows of being a writer, but she still thinks it's a joy. In this book she takes you on a journey to discover yourself and what you really want to say AND how to make it juicy and original.
Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann         $25
"A lot can be taken from you—even your life—but not your stories about that life. So this, then, is a word, not without love and respect, to a young writer: write." Some considered practical and philosophical advice.
"An intensely literary writer, his prose thrums with echoes of Beckett, Yeats and Joyce." - Sunday Times
The Exercise Book: Creative writing exercises from Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters edited by Bill Manhire, Ken Duncm, Chris Price and Damien Wilkins          $35
A wonderful array of writing exercises, prompts and constraints that will help writers at any stage in their career.
Writing True Stories: The complete guide to writing autobiography, memoir, personal essay, biography, travel and creative non-fiction by Patti Miller       $40
Provides guidance and inspiration on an array of writing topics, including how to access memories, find a narrative voice, build a vivid world on the page, create structure, use research, and face the difficulties of truth-telling.
The Story Cure: A book doctor's pain-free guide to finishing your novel or memoir by Dinty W. Moore         $35
A collection of cures for writer's block, plotting and characterisation issues, and other ailments writers face when completing a novel or memoir. Includes prescriptions for diagnoses such as character anemia, flat plot, and silent voice.
Release the Bats: Writing your way out of it by D.B.C. Pierre       $33
Dirty-But-Clean burst onto the literary scene from a nonliterary background with publication of Vernon God Little in 2003. Find out how he learned everything the hard way. 
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau          $25
Take one small banal story about a man on a bus and a remark about a button, and rewrite it ninety-nine times according to different constraints, from sonnet to antiphrasis, from onomatopoeia to metaphor, from Dog Latin to double entry, from the gastronomical to the abusive, and you come up with a book that is inventive, erudite and very funny. Raymond Queneau is a verbal acrobat of the first order. Reading this book is to attend a circus of rigours - be prepared to be exhilarated.
Bleaker House: Chasing my novel to the end of the world by Nell Stevens      $38
When Nell Stevens was given the opportunity to spend three months in a location of her choice in order to write her novel, she was determined to rid herself of all distractions. So Nell decided to travel to Bleaker Island (official population: two) in the Falklands where she would write 2,500 words a day. But Bleaker House is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a young woman realising that the way to writing fiction doesn't necessarily lie in total solitude (though total solitude may well be a good way to write a book about how total solitude is not a good way to write a book).
The Writer's Diet by Helen Sword            $25
Is your writing flabby or fit? >>Take the test. Helen Sword's book is a useful guide to producing clear, crisp, effective prose.

>>> Find out more about The Writer's Toolkit here.

27/05/2017 06:38 PM

What have we been reading?
What will you be reading next?

BOOKS @ VOLUME  #25 (27.5.17)

27/05/2017 06:30 PM

Our Book of the Week this week is Olivia Laing's The Lonely City: Adventures in the art of being alone.  Olivia Laing not only describes her often-late-night walks across New York, but, more especially, her journeys through a state of mind. Wandering through art, literature, politics and activism, Laing gives us an insightful picture of the conflicting impulses of  immersion and disjuncture the beset us all. 

>> "How art helped me see the beauty in loneliness."

>> "What is so shameful about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness?"

>> Olivia Laing's playlist for The Lonely City

>> An interview with the author. 

>> Some statistics about self-perceived loneliness in New Zealand. 

>> More than one million lonely New Zealanders

>> Laing's previous book: The Trip to Echo Spring: On writers and drinking

27/05/2017 06:28 PM

Patrick Ness’s new YA novel Release, like several of his recent books, mixes teen issues with a supernatural element. In Release the tie is more tenuous than his previous books, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and More Than This. With a single action, the prick of a rose thorn, a link is created between Adam Thorn and a murdered girl who rises from the lake. Adam, the son of  a fundamentalist preacher, wants out of the ‘Yoke’ - the stranglehold that his family have on him: he’s tired of living a life of deception. Gay, already having experienced a fraught relationship and finding out about a deeper love, Adam is essentially a great guy who would like nothing more than to be open to his family and accepted unconditionally by them. One Saturday things come to a head, and things in Adam’s life are turned upside down. There’s a going-away party for Enzo, the boy he once loved; his best friend has announced she’s leaving to spend a year in Europe; his sleazy boss is coming on to him; and on top of this, his brother, minister-to-be, has just dropped a bombshell. You can’t help but like Adam and his friends, and care about Adam’s eventual confrontation with his father, and his growing awareness of relationships, first love and what is a meaningful relationship can offer him. Running alongside this story is the surreal tale of the murdered girl/The Queen who rises from the lake seeking revenge. She’s watched over by a 7-foot faun who follows her through the town as she creates chaos and confusion. This element of the book allows Ness to show the flipside of teen life in this town, sadness, anger and abuse. Release is an intriguing book of two part. While it doesn’t always work, it’s beautifully written and Ness’s portrayal of a young gay man confronting his authoritarian father and developing an understanding of youthful love is superbly told.
 {Reviewed by STELLA}

27/05/2017 06:27 PM


Pieces of You by Eileen Merriman is brilliant, reminiscent of John Green and Jennifer Niven. The book deals with the hard issues of sexual abuse, self-harm and depression. Don’t be put off by this, as it’s not all doom and gloom: it’s also a beautiful love story, and about seeing the best in yourself and learning how to overcome obstacles. Becs has moved to a new city with her family. It’s impossible to fit in, the boy next door is cute, but Becs thinks she herself’s awful. To a teenager this will all sound familiar: the awkwardness of being new at a school, of looking in a mirror (or avoiding looking) and seeing  a failure, of being perpetually embarrassed by (almost) everything. Unlike some teenagers, Becs is also suffering from something she can’t seem to overcome, an action that will keep having repercussions until she is brave enough to deal with it. As her relationship with Cory becomes increasingly serious, her confidence grows and she realises that she can be happy again. Slowly she gains friends and starts to feel at home at school and in her new city. Author Eileen Merriman does a brilliant job of walking in a teen’s shoes: Becs, along with her friends and foes, are convincing. Pieces of You is a wonderfully compelling story suffused with heartbreak and humour about first love, about sexual awakening and the lives of teens: the decisions they are confronted by, as well as the dangers and difficult situations that young people can find themselves in, and how to cope with these. At the close of the book is a useful list of agencies and helplines. Merriman, a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital, is a New Zealand author to keep an eye on.
{Reviewed by STELLA}


27/05/2017 06:26 PM

Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard       {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed.” Gargoyles (first published in 1967 as Verstörung (“Disturbance”)) is the book in which Bernhard laid claim both thematically and stylistically to the particular literary territory developed in all his subsequent novels. In the first part of the book, set entirely within one day, the narrator, a somewhat vapid student accompanying his father, a country doctor, on his rounds, tells us of the sufferings of various patients due to their mental and physical isolation: the wealthy industrialist withdrawn to his dungeon-like hunting lodge to write a book he will never achieve (“’Even though I have destroyed everything I have written up to now,’ he said, ‘I have still made enormous progress.’”), and his sister-companion, the passive victim of his obsessions whom he is obviously and obliviously destroying; the workers systematically strangling the birds in an aviary following the death of their owner; the musical prodigy suffering from a degenerative condition and kept in a cage, tended by his long-suffering sister. The oppressive landscape mirrors the isolation and despair of its inhabitants: we feel isolated, we reach out, we fail to reach others in a meaningful way, our isolation is made more acute. “No human being could continue to exist in such total isolation without doing severe damage to his intellect and psyche.” Bernhard’s nihilistic survey of the inescapable harm suffered and inflicted by continuing to exist is, however, threaded onto the doctor’s round: although the doctor is incapable of ‘saving’ his patients, his compassion as a witness to their anguish mirrors that of the author (whose role is similar). In the second half of the novel, the doctor’s son narrates their arrival at Hochgobernitz, the castle of Prince Saurau, whose breathlessly neurotic rant blots out everything else, delays the doctor’s return home and fills the rest of the book. This desperate monologue is Bernhard suddenly discovering (and swept off his feet by) his full capacities: an obsessively looping railing against existence and all its particulars. At one stage, when the son reports the prince reporting his dream of discovering a manuscript in which his son expresses his intention to destroy the vast Hochgobernitz estate by neglect after his father’s death, the ventriloquism is many layers deep, paranoid and claustrophobic to the point of panic. The prince’s monologue, like so much of Bernhard’s best writing, is riven by ambivalence, undermined (or underscored) by projection and transference, and structured by crazed but irrefutable logic: “‘Among the special abilities I was early able to observe in myself,’ he said, ‘is the ruthlessness to lead anyone through his own brain until he is nauseated by this cerebral mechanism.’” Although the prince’s monologue is stated to be (and clearly is) the position of someone insane, this does not exactly invalidate it: “Inside every human head is the human catastrophe corresponding to this particular head, the prince said. It is not necessary to open up men’s heads in order to know that there is nothing inside them but a human catastrophe. ‘Without this human catastrophe, man does not exist at all.'”

27/05/2017 06:26 PM


One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In mathematics a problem may be solved if all the terms can be assembled on one side of the equals sign and the equation solved for zero. In history, unfortunately (or, in the minority (but probably more useful) view, fortunately), the practitioner is beset with a range of imprecise difficulties unavailable to the mathematician: the problem to be solved becomes more entangled with other problems the more it is pursued, the terms can never be completely assembled and are often vague, lost or conflicting, and it inevitably proves impossible to assemble everything (literally everything) on one side of an equals sign, leaving nothing on the other (to say nothing of the problem of the location and role of the historian (the term used here in its broadest sense) in historical enquiry). Much insight and understanding can be achieved, though, from the application of mathematical disciplines to historical problems, and by the testing, exchange and  manipulation of terms through inverse (and thus intimately related) functions (addition/subtraction, multiplication/division). Michele Audin is a fairly famous mathematician and a member of OuLiPo (a group dedicated to extracting new potentialities from literature largely by the application of mechanisms and constraints). This novel is clustered around a number of mathematicians working in France before, during and after World War Two, and the black hole around which its calculations spiral is the transport and annihilation of French Jews during the Nazi occupation and the extent of French complicity and collaboration in those events (still very much an unhealed wound). The mathematicians are, variously, Jewish, French, immigrant, German; lauded, suppressed, collaborator, disguised, hidden, incarcerated in a mental hospital. The novel asks, is there an ethical dimension to mathematics? What is the relationship between mathematics and life? Is there such a thing as Jewish/German/French mathematics? Each section of the novel is told in a different way: letters, diaries, descriptions of photographs, newspaper articles, psychiatric reports, indices of archives, travel notes and lists of numbers and their significance. Each mode is a historical residue with its own texture, the kind of range of differing information from which ‘history’ is assembled, but each mode is primarily the vector of its blind spot, that which is not revealed, the information that cannot be said. It is perhaps these blind spots that must be solved for the zero which is the annihilation of French Jews and the anti-Semitism which has beset France before, during and after that time.


27/05/2017 06:25 PM


Fullblood Arabian and The Teeth of the Comb by Osama Alomar   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Unless he has been incarcerated or deported by the current US administration, Osama Alomar is working as a taxi driver in New York. Before moving to the US as a refugee, he was an acclaimed author in Syria, especially as a practitioner of al-qisa al-qasira jiddan (very short short stories). The two collections of his that we have in English translation place him somewhere in a rough triangle apexed by the fables of Aesop, the personification tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (albeit an ‘Omar Khayyam’ arising from a world of state-sponsored torture and media-fuelled anti-Arab prejudice). These micro-fables, few longer than a few sentences, rail against injustice, are socially and politically most acute at the point where they are seemingly most ludicrous, and acknowledge despair without being without hope. A man climbs out of a narrow metal tunnel to find himself emerging from the gun barrel now pointed at his chest, a rubbish bag becomes swollen with pride at finding itself at the top of the heap of rubbish bags, a man finds a question mark in his eye when looking in the mirror. The stories often have an aphoristic feel, and are fables in that they do not intimate any further story lying beyond them (compared, for instance, with Sarah Manguso’s 500 Arguments, which are like the nuggets sieved out of novels).


26/05/2017 10:47 AM

A selection of new arrivals we think you'll like.

Sport 45         $30
Includes: 'Moulin d’Ornes', a novella by new writer Nicole Phillipson; poet John Gallas interviewed by Bill Manhire; 'Stridently Sex-Conscious’: Writing and Gender (and Mountaineering) c. 1928', a chapter from John Newton’s forthcoming history of New Zealand literature; fiction by Claire Baylis, William Brandt, David Coventry, Breton Dukes, Eamonn Marra, Melissa Day Reid, Tracey Slaughter and John Summers; essays by Giovanni Tiso and Virginia Were; poetry by Johanna Aitchison, Jake Arthur, Victoria Broome, Jake Brown, James Brown, Stephen Burt, Kate Camp, William Connor, John Gallas, Rata Gordon, Rebecca Hawkes, Helen Heath, Anna Jackson, Clare Jones, Brent Kininmont, Natalie Morrison, Bill Nelson, Rachel O’Neill, Claire Orchard, Bob Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Harry Ricketts, Evangeline Riddiford Graham, Frances Samuel, Kerrin P Sharpe, Shen Haobo translated by Liang Yujing, Charlotte Simmonds, Elizabeth Smither, Catherine Vidler and Amy Leigh Wicks; cover art by Sam Duckor-Jones. 
Bluets by Maggie Nelson          $37
"It's been said that a great writer can turn any subject into an engaging book, but most authors still choose inherently dramatic themes, and few approach the static or plotless. But this is precisely what Bluets, Maggie Nelson's arty, smart and gorgeous meditation on the color blue, sets out to do, and it is alarming how much drama she creates from a subject so apparently simple... Wittgenstein, Goethe, Gertrude Stein and Yves Klein are just a few of the writers and artists whose work Nelson uses to uncover the potency of the colour. But their true function in the book is to establish a stage on which the author can dance." - Catherine Lacey, Time Out 
From the author of The Argonauts.
Fullblood Arabian by Osama Alomar       $28Exquisite, by turns disconcerting, funny and revelatory, these very short short stories from a Syrian refugee author read like a cross between Aesop, The Arabian Nights and Lydia Davis.
>> You will also enjoy Alomar's collection The Teeth of the Comb.
"The stories' distinctive flavour comes from Alomar's masterful shifts of character perspective within extremely tight parameters. The book is full of these moments which trip you up, swing bluntly from one psyche to another, rapidly decelerate time and play with scale, all of it exposing the delicate balance of our presumptions and allegiances; the small dictatorships that we foster second by second." - 
Emissaries by Lisa Reihana       $75
Lisa Reihana's vastly ambitious, vastly impressive video installation In Pursuit of Venus [Infected]  is currently representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale. The work explores the impact of European contact on indigenous cultures in the Pacific. Reihana infects her backdrop of appropriated eighteenth-century wallpaper with subtle, snide and acute observations, building to an affecting and unsettling experience for the viewer. This sumptuous fully illustrated publication is supported by essays by a range of scholars and curators. 
The Iron Age by Arja Kajermo                  $26
Tradition and superstition clash with economic reality in this illustrated short novel telling of family's migration from rural Finland to urban Sweden. 
"This quiet, assiduously written short novel about a girl living in Finland among the looming shadows of war achieves the alchemy every writer would love to conjure up: it’s somehow about every childhood, every twilit life. A radiantly beautiful book." – Joseph O’Connor
"So bleakly funny that it makes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes seem idyllic." – The Irish Times
Collected Poems by Ian Wedde        $40
On the sharp edge of the plough since the 1960s. 

>>"I don't really know where the instinct for form comes from."
The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington        $37
Nine stories the surrealist painter and author wrote for her own children. Meet a boy who has wings for ears, another who ate the wall of his room, the Monster of Chihuahua and a vulture who gets set in gelatin.
>> Meet Leonora Carrington
Compass by Mathias Enard      $40
Awarded the Prix Goncourt and now a front-runner for the Man Booker International Prize, Enard's remarkable novel, of almost Proustian scope and texture, revolves on the cultural dynamo that is the Middle East. Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous travels to Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, and Tehran, as well as the various writers, artists, musicians, academics, Orientalists, and explorers who populate this vast dreamscape. At the centre of these memories is his elusive, unrequited love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar caught in the intricate tension between Europe and the Middle East.
"Few works of contemporary fiction will yield as much pleasure as Compass. Reading it amounts to wandering into a library arranged in the form of an exotic sweet shop, full of tempting fragments of stories guaranteed leaving you wanting more." - Irish Times
"Compass is a challenging, brilliant, and important a novel as is likely to be published this year." — Los Angeles Times
"Enard is like the anti-Houellebecq, and he deserves far more attention." - Wall Street Journal 
>> "Mathias Enard's Compass is the antidote to Europe's Islamophobia."
>> He speaks (in French)
Nobody Leaves: Seventeen essays on Poland by Ryszard Kapuscinski       $38
When Ryszard Kapuscinski was a young journalist in the early 1960s, he was sent to the farthest reaches of his native Poland between foreign assignments. The resulting pieces brought together in this new collection, nearly all of which are translated into English for the first time, reveal a place just as strange as the distant lands he visited. From forgotten villages to collective farms, Kapuscinski explores a Poland that is post-Stalinist but still Communist; a country on the edge of modernity.
"A peculiar genius with no modern equivalent, except possibly Kafka." - Jonathan Miller
Five Ideas to Fight For: How our freedom is under threat and why it matters by Anthony Lester         $22
Human Rights, equality, free speech, privacy, the rule of law: these dearly held principles of civilised society are under threat globally - from forces within government and without.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt         $30
Arendt's analysis of the conditions that led to the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes is a warning from history about the fragility of freedom, exploring how propaganda, scapegoats, terror and political isolation all aided the slide towards absolutist domination. A warning for our times (even though first published in 1951). 
The Experience of Architecture by Henry Plummer    $70
All aspects and details of a space affect how the space is experienced, but this relationship has been insufficiently documented and is often insufficiently considered. Stimulating. 
Boys in Zinc by Svetlana Alexievich          $30
A collection by the Nobel laureate of accounts from Russians (soldiers, doctors and nurses, mothers, wives and siblings) involved in the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War. Unflinching an harrowing. The dead were shipped home in sealed zinc coffins. 

There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry        $23

A modern Dubliners -  a collection of short stories from the author of the wonderful Beatlebone
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey           $25
When a Brazilian novelist disappears her translator must turn to her works to look for clues as to her whereabouts. 
"An elegant page-turner. Charges forward with the momentum of a bullet."  - New York Times Book Review

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott        $38
Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, the town of Rotherweird's independence (not to mention its special character, strange architecture, arcane science and idiosyncratic customs) is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history. For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused. Shelve beside Peake, Gorey and Aaronvitch. 
"Intricate and crisp, witty and solemn: a book with special and dangerous properties." - Hilary Mantel
Sri Lanka: The cookbook by Prakash K. Sivanathan and Niranjala M. Ellawala        $45
As well as absorbing influences from India, the Middle East, Far East Asia and myriad European invaders, the small island also has strong Singhalese and Tamil cooking traditions. This cookbook brings these styles together to showcase feather-light hoppers, fiery sambols, subtly spiced curries and unique ‘vada’ (fried snacks).

Science and Islam by Ehsan Masood        $25
Preserving and building on Classical scholarship, it was the Islamic world, from Cordoba to Samarkand, that carried the torch of science before the European Enlightenment.
Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann         $25
"A lot can be taken from you—even your life—but not your stories about that life. So this, then, is a word, not without love and respect, to a young writer: write." Some considered practical and philosophical advice.
"An intensely literary writer, his prose thrums with echoes of Beckett, Yeats and Joyce." - Sunday Times
Naondel ('The Red Abbey Chronicles' #2) by Maria Turtschaninoff        $23
Follows Maresi in this excellent Finnish feminist YA fantasy, reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale and Ursula K. Le Guin.
"Maresi is thrilling, harrowing and exhilarating by turns. It conjures up a startlingly well-fashioned world that's different from ours, yet disturbingly familiar. It grips like a vice and enchants like a distant song. It's tale-telling as strong, complex and admirable as its heroine." - Jonathan Stroud
Briony Hatch by Ginny and Penelope Skinner           $35
Briony Hatch hates reality. She prefers the fantasy world of her favourite novels: 'The Starling Black Adventures', in which ghosts are real and you can cast magic spells to defeat your enemies. In her real life, Briony's parents are getting divorced and her friends are preoccupied by losing weight and meeting boys. Briony has tried all Starling Black's magic spells in her bedroom but they don't seem to be working. Her mother wants her to grow up, get her head out of those books and pack - they're leaving Dad and moving into a bungalow the other side of town. Worst of all, Briony has almost finished the last ever Starling Black novel. Life will soon have no meaning at all. But Briony is about to learn that fantasy and reality aren't always so easy to distinguish, and life doesn't have to be dull just because you're getting older.
"The visual construction of the graphic narrative is remarkably inventive and varied, from Briony’s hand-drawn chapter markers to pages from her diary that render her internal thought processes empathetically. This visual narrative displays a fresh sense of experimentation in conveying the emotional extremes of teen life, from despair to laughter, and avoids the well-worn tropes of the coming-of-age tale" - Publishers Weekly
Argentinian Street Food: Empanadas, helados and dulce de leche by Enrique Zanoni and Gaston Stivelmaher        $28
Achievable delicious food with text and photographs to provide cultural context.
Elsewhere: Stories from small-town Europe edited by Maria Crossan      $27
Featuring Mirja Unge (Sweden), Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Gyrðir Elíasson (Iceland), Roman Simic (Croatia), Ingo Schulze (Germany), Michael O'Conghaile (Ireland), Mehmet Zaman Saçlioglu (Turkey), Frode Grytten (Norway), Jean Sprackland (Scotland) and Danielle Picard (France). Is there some common experience to living in a small town in Europe, or is there not?
Adults in the Room: My battle with Europe's deep establishment by Yanis Varoufakis         $40
Who really wields the power behind Europe? Varoufakis attempted to lead Greece through a radical economic reform, which would have addressed its financial crisis, but the experiment was derailed by deeper financial interests across Europe.
Scientific Babel: The language of science from the fall of Latin to the rise of English by Michael D. Gordin         $28
German, Russian, Swedish and Italian all vied to be the global scientific language, often with unfortunate consequences, before English assumed the mantle of scientific monoglot. What were the political, personal, financial (and even scientific) factors at play in this transitional period?
The Reality Frame: Relativity and our place in the universe by Brian Clegg        $45
Humanity has traditionally sought out absolutes to explain the world around us, but as science has developed, relativity has swept away many of these certainties, leaving only a handful of unchangeable essentials such as absolute zero, leading to better science and a new understanding of the texture of what we call knowledge and the texture of what it is to be human.
The Last Resistance by Jacqueline Rose        $22
What place is there for literature in the political dimension of our lives? Rose considers Zionism, Israel-Palestine, post-Apartheid South Africa and the American national fantasy post-9/11, and the works of Freud, Grossman, Sebald and Gordimer.

The Courage of Hopelessness: Chronicles of a year acting dangerously by Slavoj Žižek       $30
Do we endorse the predominant acceptance of capitalism as a fact of human nature, or does today's capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms to prevent its infinite reproduction? Can we move beyond the perceived failure of socialism, and beyond the current wave of populist rage, and initiate radical change before the train hits?

Astride a Fierce Wind by Huberta Hellendoorn      $38
Huberta Hellendoorn was born in the Netherlands in 1937 and emigrated to Dunedin in 1960 with her husband. This is the story of her life, hardships and triumphs, and the effect of migration on her 'Dutchness'.

'Alma Quirky Classics'           $17 each
On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts by Thomas de Quincey (an indescribable mixture of analysis, reportage and satire from one of English's finest stylists. 
The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift (The 'Ancients' versus the 'Moderns' in this pastiche of the heroic epic genre.     
The Death of a Civil Servant by Anton Chekhov (Short stories satirising greed, sycophancy and ignorance).
The Decay of Lying by Oscar Wilde (What is the relationship between art and life?)
The Crocodile by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (A man experiences every impediment to escape after being swallowed alive by a crocodile).
The Dictionary of Received Ideas by Gustav Flaubert (A spoof encyclopedia of 19th century popular 'wisdom').
Bad Hair Day        $15
Once you start looking at the subjects' hair in artworks, you'll find amusement everywhere. This wee handbook from the collections of the Christchurch Art Gallery will get you started.

Cat Bingo by Marcel George          $42

25/05/2017 02:07 PM

21/05/2017 02:45 AM

BOOKS @ VOLUME #24 (20.5.17)

Our bulletin of news, events, reviews and recommendations.

21/05/2017 02:34 AM

WINTER @ VOLUME. We are delighted to announce a series of mind-warming book-related events and workshops at VOLUME (the place where books and people meet).
Wednesday 31 May, 6 PM: Alan Carter Marlborough Man Book Launch (see here). All welcome.
Thursdays 8 June - 6 July, 9-11:30 AM (5 sessions): The Writer's Toolkit, a workshop led by Michelanne Forster. This course looks closely at the key craft skills writers use, unpacking complex ideas in a creative and practical way. Booking essential, and places limited. $250.  >> Find out more about the course and Michelanne here.
Saturday 17 June, 2-3 PM: Talking About Books with book binder Rosie-Anne Pinney of Cambria Craft Bindery. Come along for a informal chat about rare, old and special books. Bring along a book that is special to you to share and your questions about care and restoration of books. This is a free event but places are limited so booking is essential. >> Find out a little more here.

Wednesday 21 June, 5-6 PM: Poetry Reading. Poetry students from the NMIT writing course led by Cliff Fell will mark the longest night of the year by reading new and original works. All welcome.
Thursday 22 June, 5-6 PM: MY VOLUME Book group (for adults) in the shop. Come along to discuss Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Men Without Women. Register when you buy the book. 
Thursday 29 June, 5-6 PM: Object Lessons : What do objects mean to us? VOLUME will introduce Bloomsbury's excellent 'Object Lessons' essay series. Jeweller Katie Pascoe will talk about her Possession exchange project. Bring along an object to add to a discussion about objects, their meaning and our relationships with them. All welcome.

21/05/2017 02:33 AM

This week's Book of the Week is Catherine Chidgey's exquisitely written novel The Wish Child, which has just won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

>> Read Stella's review

>> Read an excerpt

>> Wrestling with her inner critic

>> Two births in one year

>> A night at the Ockhams in a not-very-good seat

21/05/2017 02:32 AM

Tuesday 23 May is Book Night! The challenge is to spend an extra 15 minutes reading (easier than spending an extra 15 minutes not reading). >> You can register yourself and go in the draw for some appropriate prizes. >> Indulge in some communal silent reading at the Elma Turner Library from 6 PM. Come and read in the shop any time on Tuesday!

21/05/2017 02:31 AM

 {Review by STELLA}

 Mariana Enriquez’s short story collection Things we Lost in the Fire is as beguiling as it is haunting. Described as ‘Argentine Gothic’, the macabre tales encircle the supernatural, with depictions of demons and ghosts, but it is far from a traditional horror scenario. Enriquez’s characters are fascinating, sometimes eccentric, and you walk alongside them as their curiousity is piqued by the unusual, as they try to make sense of eerie happenings or become disengaged with reality in a bid to push danger away from themselves. In many of the stories the protagonists are young or searching for meaning, trying to grasp what underpins their existence. A woman goes back to live in the now run-down suburb of her childhood and has a fraught interaction with the ‘dirty kid’ who lives on the street with his junkie mother. In another story three young women live a hedonistic lifestyle, vowing allegiance to each other - blood sisters - only to increasingly see that their options in life are limited. They become obsessed with the fable of a ghost girl, a girl who walked off the bus and into the woods. They long to escape. A man, who works on a tourist bus and tells the stories of famous and nasty crimes, starts to see the ghost of a murderer - who then joins in on the antics of the retellings. But only he can see the murderer - the tourists are oblivious. Three children become fascinated with a bricked up house. One of them - the girl with one arm - is absorbed by the house, never to reappear. In all the stories there is a sense of threat and strangeness. Revenge, love, betrayal play their roles, along with superstition and jealousy, but this collection is also about poverty, corruption, political disappearances, and the violent history of Argentina. In a city seething with life, there is an undercurrent that unsettles people living on the edge of the unknown.

21/05/2017 02:30 AM


There’s nothing better to make a murder mystery extra-chilling than to set it in an idyllic location. Marlborough Man, Alan Carter’s fourth novel, is set in Marlborough, centred on the sleepy village of Havelock. Under all that idyll, crime lurks, along with decades-long grudges. Traffic infringements, firearms misdemeanours, drunken arguments and shoplifting are the usual fare for Havelock’s Sergeant Nick Chester, and life has been reassuring uneventful. Just the way Chester wants it (even if he is a bit bored), hiding out in New Zealand far from his past life in the criminal underbelly of Sunderland. Yet Nick Chester is watching his back, knowing that he is being hunted. Alan Carter and Nick Chester have some things in common: they are both from Sunderland and have been living in the Wakamarina Valley for a few years. While Carter’s not in a witness protection programme and no one is hunting him, he does draw on his experiences of living in a small community, of being an outsider and of observing our society with a candidness which is refreshing, giving Chester a realistic and sharp perspective. Marlborough Man is a murder mystery, yet, as with Carter’s other crime novels (the 'Cato 'series, which is set in Perth), there is commentary about social and political circumstances that gives depth to the plot, and the criminals are psychologically complex, the crimes disturbing. When a young boy’s body turns up beside the ‘shoe fence’, life becomes complicated and past grievances rise to the surface. A murder of a local boy five years earlier gets Chester digging, even though the Wellington detectives are handling the case. As another child disappears the clock keeps ticking. Mix this with the prospect of thugs coming to find him, trying to keep his marriage on an even keel and the ins and outs of the local community, and you have the recipe for a layered and compelling tale complete with an array of intriguing ‘locals’, the tensions between competing and opposing lifestyles, and some wry humour which balances the novel’s darker moments.

{Reviewed by STELLA}



21/05/2017 02:29 AM

An Overcoat: Scenes from the afterlife of H.B. by Jack Robinson  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In 1819 Henry Beyle, better known by his pen-name Stendhal, is rejected yet again by Mathilde, Countess Dembowska, the woman he loves. He vows never to give up and consequently lives on past his death in 1842 and into contemporary times (that is to say, contemporary with the readers and author of this wonderful little book), an untarnished vector of romantic longing and novelistic acuity. In this subtle and playful text, which exemplifies the virtue of lightness championed by Italo Calvino, Charles Boyle (Boyle/Beyle), writing under his pen-name Jack Robinson, dissolves the distinction between historical fact and creative freedom, allowing each to infect or lubricate the other. Composed mostly of footnotes (and of footnotes to the footnotes), the brief impressionistic sections display and connect a wide experience of reading, thinking, feeling and writing, Boyle and Beyle twitching either end of a web of literary circuitry. Identities are interchangeable, pen-names, however ridiculous, take on personalities of their own that interface with their creators as equals, or replace them, the most quotidian of details are turned over to reveal the unrequited longing that lies beneath, multilayered games are played with the expectations of readers (and the expectations of writers, too). It is appropriate that one of the pioneers of fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of fictitious characters should be the putative subject of a book that is really a fictional essay on fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of characters both fictitious and ‘real’.


21/05/2017 02:28 AM

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Popular culture rightly feels threatened by structuralist criticism, but it has only its own existing weapons (and not the weapon of theory) with which to respond and its understanding of the threat posed upon it is necessarily vague. When Roland Barthes was killed by a laundry van when crossing the road in 1980, his afterlife was up for grabs.* Could this incident be an opportunity to strike back at semiotics through its most vulnerable aspect, the semioticians? What if these philosophers were made to behave in a book, now that they no longer exist in the world, as cartoon caricatures of philosophers? How about introducing a detective, an ordinary fictional detective, resembling or not resembling, who knows, a real detective, who begins to discover that Barthes was killed as part of a high-level international intrigue for the sake of some papers he had written on the seventh function of language, its capacity, when correctly loaded, to irresistibly persuade whoever it is pointed at (useful, at a popular-cultural level). Of course, a detective, like a semiotician, is on a trail of clues and signs, the difference being that a detective believes that behind the signs lies a single story whereas the semiotician knows that interpretation will never exhaust the sign. Which approach is more useful? Which is more true? The more this popular-cultural detective corrals within the limits of his investigations the philosophers who are for him the stand-ins for their philosophy, the more he lays himself open to interpretation from beyond those limits. The satiriser becomes the satirical representation of a satiriser, perhaps for the very objects of his satire. Theory thus ducks the long arm of the law, but this too comes at a cost, the loosening of the bond between the signifier and the signified. Ouch. Structuralist criticism rightly feels threatened by post-structuralist criticism, but it has only its own existing weapons with which to respond and its understanding of the threat posed upon it is necessarily vague.

* Barthes was implicated in the death of the author in 1967 but was released without charge as the body was never found. Although this was a cold case by 1980, the possibility of his death being a revenge killing warrants further examination. 

19/05/2017 11:07 PM

A few books from our shelves about the brain, its vagaries and potentials. 

The Brain: The story of you by David Eagleman        $25
The latest discoveries enable neurology to enter the preserves of psychology and philosophy. Eagleman’s descriptions of the behaviour of neurons tell us much about how we generate our idea of reality, our feelings and thoughts, our ideas about ourselves and our capacities. What makes humans so interesting neurologically is that we are born ‘soft-wired’, which means that the function of our brain is formed and reformed by experience. Of the many fascinating things that have been revealed by recent neurology is the fact that we do not attempt to make an idea of the world around us from sensual stimulation but rather that we form an idea of the world around us and only then test it against stimulation, showing our idea of the world to be primarily a creative act, the work of an author (which just happens to be subsequently fact-checked) rather than a piece of reportage. Discoveries like these have profound implications.
A Day in the Life of the Brain: The neuroscience of consciousness, from dawn to dusk by Susan Greenfield          $38
How do our daily activities translate into the pattern of firing neurons and chemical microchanges that we consider somehow analogous to consciousness? Greenfield presents the perfect blend of expertise and compelling writing. 
Patient H.M.: A story of memory, madness and family secrets by Luke Dittrich        $55
In 1953 a neurosurgeon failed to eliminate the seizures that beset Henry Molaison, but the operation did leave Molaison incapable of forming durable memories. Molaison became a celebrated case in the study of neurology, and his profound amnesia gave much to our understanding of memory. Beneath all this neuroscience lies also a tragic human story. 
Do No Harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery by Henry Marsh       $28
What is it like to be a brain surgeon? How does it feel to hold someone's life in your hands, to cut through the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason? How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?
Admissions: A life in brain surgery by Henry Marsh       $38
Why does a person to spend a lifetime handling other people's brains? No other part of the body is more integral to what makes us human and what makes life worthwhile. 
How Emotions are Made: The secret life of the brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett         $38
What correspondence is there between our experiences and our brain chemistry and neural activities. 

The Case of the Missing Body by Jenny Powell       $30

The story of a young New Zealand woman who has no sense of her body. Working with a physiotherapist, this begins to change. 
The Man Who Wasn't There: Tales from the edge of the self by Anil Ananthaswamy        $32
Recent neurological investigation of conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer's, ecstatic epilepsy and Cotard's syndrome, as well as out of body experiences and Asperger's, is helping us to think anew about the Self at a level of detail that Descartes ("I think therefore I am") could never have imagined. 
Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder by Greg de Moore and Ann Westmore        $37
Lithium: the penicillin of mental health, the first effective psychiatric medication, flattening out the lives of bipolar sufferers since 1948. 

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, And other inspiring stories of pioneering brain transformation by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young          $27
As a child, Arrowsmith-Young read and wrote everything backward, struggled to process concepts in language, continually got lost, and was physically uncoordinated. With iron determination she set about changing her brain function through cognitive exercises she devised herself. Although neuroplasticity is now accepted by the medical mainstream, this has only happened very recently, and Arrowsmith-Young and the other pioneers she treats in this book were operating very much in isolation and against medical resistance. 
The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science by Norman Doidge       $36
A woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole; a woman labelled retarded who cured her deficits with brain exercises; blind people who learn to see; learning disorders cured; IQs raised; ageing brains rejuvenated; lifelong character traits changed: Doidge presents evidence of neuroplasticity that until recently would be labelled as science fiction.  
Override: My quest to go beyond brain training and take control of my mind by Caroline Williams        $38
Williams visits the experts and tries out the latest exercises in plain plasticity, but can she really make a difference to her brain's function? What possibilities and what limitations are there in this area of neuroscience? 

In a Different Key: The story of autism by John Donvan and Carin Zucker      $38
From the first diagnosis 75 years ago to the latest scientific discoveries and difference activism, the history of autism is inseparable from the history of the non-autistic. This book does much to include the experiences of the autistic, parents and doctors, and will help towards a new understanding and acceptance. 
Odd Girl Out: An autistic woman in a neurotypical world by Laura James         $30 
Explores how and why female autism is so under-diagnosed and very different from that seen in men and boys and explores difficulties and benefits neurodiversity can bring.
The Reason I Jump: One boy's voice from the silence of autism by Naoki Higashida         $23
"When we look at nature we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world." This is a very interesting book, written by a 13-year-old autistic boy using a cardboard ‘keyboard’. In response to a series of questions, he gives insights into the usually unreachable world of someone whose mind is so acutely wired that he is overwhelmed by every impulse and whose body is the locus of a frustrating interface with the world. This book not only intimates the life of an autistic mind, but will enlarge your understanding of what it is to exist and be human. "People with autism have no freedom. The reason is that we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses. We are outside the normal flow of time, we can't express ourselves and our bodies are hurtling us through life. We want to go back. To the distant, distant past. To a primeval era, in fact, before human beings even existed."  
Delusions of Gender: The real science behind sex differences by Cordelia Fine         $29

Splendidly debunks the myth that there is a biological difference between the male and female brain and shows how gendered thinking is solely the result of social conditioning. 
Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds by Cordelia Fine         $33
Brings together evolutionary science, psychology, neuroscience and social history to move beyond old 'nature versus nurture' debates, and to explain why it's time to unmake the myth of the 'male' or 'female' brain. 
Pieces of Mind: 21 short walks around the human brain by Michael Corballis        $30
A very personable guide to the facts and myths of the human brain, with explanations of humans' behavioural quirks. 
The Wandering Mind: What your brain does when you're not looking by Michael Corballis          $35
Science has shown that the brain is never idle. When not being goaded towards a particular goal, a lot of interesting things are going on inside our heads. These neural wanderings are important for our personality, creativity and mental health. 
The Truth About Language: What it is and where it came from by Michael Corballis       $40
Corballis argues with both God and Chomsky to persuade us that language is indeed the product of evolution and has its precursors throughout the animal kingdom. How has this development paralleled the evolution of the human brain?
Stammered Songbook: A mother's book of hours by Erwin Mortier       $25
When Erwin Mortier’s mother developed Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 65, her loss of memory was also a profound loss of personality and Mortier began to find it difficult to associate the memories he had of his once-vivacious mother with the person whose rapid mental and physical diminishment made her more of a lingering absence than a presence. Mortier’s book is beautifully written, intensely sad, unsentimental, unflinching and tender. His ability to use a tiny detail or turn of phrase to evoke a memory of his mother or his childhood or a step in his mother’s loss of memory and language and personality is remarkable. Written while his mother is still alive in an attempt to fix his memories of her lest they get sucked away in the slipstream of her departure, the book expresses the hope that, following her death, these memories will be freed from the mental decline which currently overwhelms them and that, through words, they may come together again to form an idea of the particular person his mother was. 
When We Are No More: How digital memory is shaping our future by Abby Smith Runsey         $37
The human capacity for memory has given the species an evolutionary advantage and the ability to project forward on the basis of those memories. How are these capacities, and the brain that enables them, being affected by the outsourcing of memory to electronic devices? 
The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr       $34
Does Google make us stupid? How is the use of technology to do things formerly done by our brains affecting and reshaping those brains? Carr compares the focus and concentration enabled by a technology such as the printed book with the rapid multi-focused information assault provided by digital media and speculates a far-reaching change in human nature. Is this book the Silent Spring  for our brains?
Deep Thinking: The human future of artificial intelligence by Garry Kasparov       $38
In 1997 the world chess champion Garry Kasparov was beaten at chess by a supercomputer named Deep Blue. This experience led him to consider the vast scope and uses of artificial intelligence and also the human capacities (including the capacity for useful error) beyond the reach of machines. Is AI a threat or an opportunity for the human brain?
To Be a Machine: Adventures among cyborgs, Utopians, hackers and the futurists solving the modest problem of death by Mack O'Connell       $33
Technological transhumanism is causing us to rethink what it means to be human and is enabling us to rethink old problems in new ways. 
"A beautifully written powerhouse of a novel that defies all expectations." - Independent 
Other Minds: The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life by Peter Godfrey-Smith        $30
The remarkable intelligence of the cephalopds evolved quite separately from that of homonids and cetaceans. What does this tell us about the nature and evolution of consciousness, and what would it be like to have the mind of an octopus? 

16/05/2017 09:51 PM

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The winners in the OCKHAM NEW ZEALAND BOOK AWARDS have just been announced.

The Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize: The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey
Can You Tolerate This?

Royal Society Te Aparangi Award for General Non-Fiction: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

A History of New Zealand Women

Illustrated Non-Fiction: A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes

Fits & Starts

Poetry: Fits & Starts by Andrew Johnston

Best First Book Awards:
Illustrated Non-Fiction: A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngati Porou Carving, 1830-1930 by Ngarino Ellis
Poetry: Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird
General Non-Fiction: My Father's Island by Adam Dudding
Fiction: Black Ice Matter by Gina Cole

14/05/2017 12:04 AM

The winners in the Ockham New Zealnd Book Awards and the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize will be announced on Tuesday. As the excitement mounts, we are delighted to announce the results of our OCKHAMETER (and Acornometer) survey to find the most popular finalists. >> Click for the results.
Poetry: Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press)
Fiction: The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)
General Non-Fiction: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press)
Illustrated: A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brooks (Bridget Williams Books)
The winner of a copy of each of the winning books courtesy of the publishers (wait for Tuesday to find out which) is Hugh Rennie. Congratulations, and thanks to all participants!

14/05/2017 12:02 AM

What have we been reading in the lead-up to the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards?
What will you be reading after you have finished reading what you are reading now?

Read our latest bulletin of news, reviews and new releases: 
BOOKS @ VOLUME #23 (13.5.17)

13/05/2017 11:56 PM

Scroll through a selection of the interesting
NEW RELEASES that have arrived at VOLUME this week, or drop into the shop and pick up a copy in printed form. Books can be purchased from our website or from our shelves, and sent anywhere. 

13/05/2017 11:55 PM
This week's Book of the Week is My Father's Island by Adam Dudding (published by Victoria University Press).
Adam Dudding's book is a memoir of his father, Robin Dudding, a foremost literary editor of his time, catalyst to a generation of New Zealand writers, resolute bohemian, devoted but flawed father and husband.

>> Read Stella's review.

>> The book has been short-listed for the General Non-Fiction section of the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

>> An extract from the book.

>> An interview with Adam.

>> Adam Dudding chats with Kim Hill.

>> An obituary for Robin Dudding, groomed by Charles Brasch as editor of Landfall and founder of the literary journal Islands.

13/05/2017 11:54 PM


With the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards announcement just around the corner, and with our melee just behind us, at VOLUME we have been keeping up with the finalists.
Added to STELLA's reading of the Acorn Fiction Prize - three of the four sorted - this week is Emma Neale’s Billy Bird. Emma Neale’s latest novel looks at trauma and its effect on a family. At the heart of this family is Billy, a thoughtful and intelligent young boy who desires to be a bird, as if becoming a bird will right all the wrongs that surround Jase. When Billy is two his cousin becomes part of the small nuclear family, after Jase’s parents die. For Billy and his parents, Liam and Iris, this begins a period of readjustment, acceptance and coping. For Billy, he has an almost-brother, one who becomes increasingly important to him. Fire ahead six years to a day of showing off and a terrible accident and all is thrown into chaos. Will Liam and Iris be able to save their marriage and stop their destructive patterns heightened by grief and loss?  Will Billy find a way to cope with his parents’ despair as well as his own feelings of guilt and sadness? Neale has created characters that will resonate with many. Liam is trying hard to make the most of things by battling through and attempting to look to the future, but keeping his grief under control leads to frustration and a realisation that there are some things you can’t keep running from. Iris, always wanting to be the perfect parent, rides herself hard, to the point of being unable to struggle through the day without feeling emotionally and physically drained. When Billy’s bird-like antics threaten his safety, Iris and Liam have to face each other and the grief that has been tightly controlled. Neale weaves humour, understanding and sentiment into this tale about family and loss, but at times, although thoughtful, it feels a little contrived.
Another fiction contender dealing with the human condition is Owen Marshall’s Love as a Stranger. The premise is good. Sarah, in Auckland with her ill husband, meets Hartley on one of her many walks. Understandably, a friendship begins and then blooms into a love affair.  Sarah’s husband is preoccupied with treatment, hospital and assessing his life, sorting the archives and photographs, leaving Sarah lonely and vulnerable. Hartley, who is slowly revealed to us, is a broken man and his new-found friendship becomes increasingly important to him. As the pressure increases, Sarah finds herself torn between her loyalty and love for her husband and her fascination with the possibility of life with Hartley. However, note the 'stranger' element in the title. All is not as expected. While the ideas are good here, Marshall’s short stories far outshine this novel. Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child remains the front-runner for me. Still to read: C.K. Stead's The Name on the Door is Not Mine.