12/08/2018 12:29 AM

What have we been reading and recommending this week?
Read our latest NEWSLETTER.

BOOKS @ VOLUME #87 (11.8.18)

12/08/2018 12:29 AM


Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
You come away from Michael Ondaatje’s novel Warlight altered. Closing the cover on the final pages feels somewhat like a betrayal or a bereavement. You do not want to leave, still curious to understand, wanting more. Warlight opens in 1945 with a London family. Rachel and Nathaniel, affectionately referred to by their mother as Wren and Stitch, are to be left at home with a mysterious boarder, whom they name The Moth, while their parents move to Singapore, ostensibly for their father’s career. Little do they know that this will be the last time they see their father and it will be years until Rose, their mother, enters their lives again. Not long into the story, Rachel finds Rose’s trunk, which she had packed with fanfare and care, in the basement, and here the betrayal begins. Where is their mother, and why has she abandoned them? Sent to boarding schools, both youths run away and, intriguingly, The Moth convinces the schools that they will both be day pupils, and creates the setting for an unconventional household. While most days pass without mishap, some evenings bring a cast of unusual and lively characters into the children’s world. For Nathaniel, a keen and quiet observer, his life becomes filled with adventures and contact with those on the fringes of society. The Moth, on realising that he is hardly attending school, gets him a job at the Criterion, where he meets immigrant workers and gains an education of a different sort. His most intimate connection, though, is with an ex-boxer known as The Darter, who takes him (and later also, his girlfriend Agnes) on travels along the Thames, dealing illegal greyhounds and other contraband. The first half of the book focuses on these teen years: Nathaniel’s exploration of his world, a London underworld, and his lack of awareness of what is happening in the shadows. When the monsters come out of the shadows so does Rose, but the explanations remain in the dark. Later, a decade on, we meet Nathaniel in his late twenties working in the Archives of the Foreign Office, covering the tracks and eliminating information from those post-war years, the years when Rose worked as a spy, passing information to a network of allies working undercover in Europe. It is the second part of this novel that the unease and tension that permeates Nathaniel’s life comes to the fore. Rose, having cut her ties with the agency, lives an anonymous existence in Suffolk, waiting for the stranger that she believes will come for her. Although she has contact with her son (Rachel has cast her out completely), she is guarded. Any questions are met with limited information or no responses: she keeps her cards close to her chest, never revealing her past life or the role that the various ‘guardians’ had. Through Nathaniel’s musings we are given a version of Rose’s life: what may have happened to leave her with scars running down her forearms, where she may have been in those disappeared years, and who she may have loved. It is the ‘story’ of his mother, a melded memory of his childhood, the shadowy characters who came in and out of his life, fragments of poetry, drawings and interpretations of recorded interviews and mission accounts, that he pores through to create a picture. Ondaatje leaves us with lives damaged and relationships torn asunder not by bombs but by the battles of secrecy, lies and oblique conversations. Tender and achingly beautiful, Warlight takes you into its pages and transports you to another place and time.  

12/08/2018 12:17 AM


Transit by Rachel Cusk   {"Reviewed" by THOMAS}
He had just sat down, he said, to begin to write a review, and when he said this word “review” he made those irritating little inverted comma actions in the air with the first two fingers of each hand, which made me wonder whether he used nested one- and two-finger quote gestures for quotes within quotes, and also whether he extended the practice to maybe some kind of diagonal hand signal when he spoke the title of a book or other such matter which would be italicised in print, so that, when he went on to mention the name of the book he had begun telling me about, or, rather, had begun telling me about his beginning to write a review of, a book called Transit by Rachel Cusk, I looked for such a gesture and had trouble suppressing what could have appeared as a small smirk of contempt when the gesture upon which I had speculated was not forthcoming, just as I might, involuntarily, smirk at other examples of people who were incapable of executing the grammatical precision to which they aspired. The book, he was telling me, was narrated by a woman who was trying, despite the best efforts of the downstairs neighbours, so to call them, to submit both her house and her personal life to some kind of renovation after she had moved back to the city with her children, who, due to the renovations, do not appear in the book, except by telephone, some years after separating from her children’s father, who, in the book, is nothing more than a force of absence even though he is supposedly looking after the children while the renovations are taking place. I am unsure why he was telling me this, perhaps he didn’t realise that I had read the book myself, but surely he was not so naive as to think that plot made any particular contribution to the novel, and, indeed it was probable that he was not suggesting this but that he just didn’t know how to begin. Actuality is insufficiently robust a medium to sustain that peculiar arrangement of circumstance and intention that in fiction we like to think of as plot, I suggested, and he looked at me for a moment with his mouth open before asking me to repeat what I had just said and jotting it down on a piece of paper in that illegible scrawl of his. Please go on with what you were saying, I said, but he seemed to have lost his train of thought, if it had ever had sufficient impetus to be thought of as a train. The book, he said, seems to be “about”, and again he made that little inverted comma gesture, the ambivalence of the narrator, and, by extension, perhaps, of the author, who, after all, resembles the narrator in every particular, so far as I am aware, which, however, is not very far, I interjected, to passive observation as opposed to deliberate agency, and to fate, so to call it, to the reading of life as text, perhaps, as opposed to choice, the authorship of one’s circumstances and the guilt and responsibilities that come with that. He had not expressed this well, but it did resonate with certain passages in the book, I thought, such as when one character, I have forgotten who, says, “Only the very lucky and the very unlucky get an unmixed fate: the rest of us have to choose.” I think it was the narrator’s long-ago boyfriend who says this, a man so concerned that choice leads to guilt that he expends immense efforts removing choice from his life, even though this leads to virtual stagnation: “Perhaps it is only in our injuries, he said, that the future can take root.” Is fate “only truth in its natural state”? “For a long time I believed than it was only through absolute passivity that you could learn to see what was actually there,” says the narrator, coming to the realisation that this attitude had led to others dictating her circumstances. But, I thought, at the other extreme, and as exemplified by the narrator’s cousin Lawrence in the final section of the book, in one of the most acidly observed dinner parties in literature, in which the dreadful Lawrence describes how “he had to decide to be a person who prefered smoked duck to processed cheese,” intention and pretension, creation and fakery, are indistinguishable. I hadn’t been listening to what the bookseller had been telling me for the last minute, lost as I had been in my own thoughts about the book, but he was explaining to me, not that I needed an explanation, that the book was arranged in a sequence of sections in which the narrator, whose name is revealed by one character to be Faye, relates the stories told her by various other characters, including the stories these characters tell her as having been told to them by yet other characters, sometimes to a third or fourth degree removed, while the narrator herself is almost entirely absent from the proceedings, so to call them, a mouthpiece for the stories that lie outside herself. When I suggest to the bookseller that our identities always lie outside ourselves, primarily in the stories of other people, and that the idea of your self is a cypher, that you are nothing more than what you are at that moment aware of, or, rather, that you are nothing more than others’ awareness of you, which is not the same thing, but, fortunately, the bookseller was not mentally agile enough to keep pace with what I was saying as long as I spoke fast enough. The personal is a void in the continuum of others, I went on, as the bookseller’s mouth gaped stupidly and he groped for his pencil and paper without finding them, just as the private is a hole in the public, a void; we are defined always, I speculated, by our absence. It was perhaps dawning now upon the bookseller that I had actually read the book upon which he was styling himself some sort of authority, at least by presuming to review it, or at least by sitting down, as he had said, with the intention of reviewing it. Could it be, he asked me, that the combined mass of all the people we come into contact with forms a sort of algorithm that can do our thinking for us, given that all thought, as I had suggested, takes place outside the head, that the ‘I’ is always outsourced into the combined stories of others? He had, I could tell, been thinking about the book after all, at least in a rudimentary sort of way, or maybe just listening to what I had been saying more carefully than it had appeared. He wishes, he said, that he had started reading the book earlier in the week, but he had begun to read two other books, one after the other, that he had abandoned before beginning Transit. He had been looking forward toTransit, he said, after having read Cusk’s latest book, Kudos, a few weeks ago and reviewed itKudos was, he thought, perhaps the best book he had read this year. He had even read Transit walking home that day from the bookshop that he ran with his partner, so that he could finish it in time to write the review that was expected of him, if not by the customers, who most likely didn’t read his reviews in the weekly e-mail newsletter anyway, then at least by himself. He might have managed to get the review written, he said, if he had not remembered when he got home that he had promised to investigate the awful rotting smell they had noticed in the shed that his partner also used as a studio and which she had been intending on using the next day, Sunday, their only day off in the week. What should have been, he had thought, merely a matter of locating the dead rat, he recognised the smell, and disposing of it had turned into a rather protracted operation as it turned out that the rat had crawled into the back vent of their clothes dryer before expiring, and that its removal required the disassembly of a fair part of the dryer’s housing and venting system and, more protractedly, is reassembly after cleaning. He tried not to think, he said, about the children’s towels, along with their own, that had been dried on a few damp days that week with heated air that had been passed over the corpse of a rat. I don’t know why he was telling me this, it had nothing to do with Transit as far as I could tell, but he went on to say how, despite the surgical gloves he had worn and the disinfectant he had liberally employed, he still felt contaminated by the corpse, and that the stench was still resident in his maxillary sinuses, with the result that, as the deadline for his review, midnight, was fast approaching, his inclination to actually write it was much depleted and he was considering instead writing a short piece relating his experiences with the rat, entitled ‘Why I Have Not Written My Review’. I suggested that nobody would be interested in this, was he, after all, trying to both bore and nauseate them? and he should, I suggested, either just write no review or write a short one. A short one would be a relief to anyone who actually read what he wrote, in any case, I said, and probably more effective at selling books, which is perhaps his intention, after all, than the long and confusing paragraphs he so often produced. Just write, I like this book, I suggested, or don’t write anything at all. I handed him his pencil and paper, which had fallen under his chair. I like this book, he wrote, and I think you will too. 

11/08/2018 11:43 PM

Our Book of the Week this week is Michael Ondaatje's latest novel, Warlight (published by Jonathan Cape). Two teenagers, left by their parents in London after World War 2 under the protection of a man called The Moth and his mysterious companions, realise only much later the significance of what happened in this time and the truth about what they thought was their mother's betrayal. 
"His best novel since The English Patient." - New York Times

>> Read Stella's review. 

>> Ondaatje says his novels always start with a landscape and end with a conversation.

>> The book has been long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize (as have these other books)

>> Ondaatje talks with Wallace Chapman on Radio NZ National

>> Ondaatje on writing

>> "I feel tenderness towards my books." 

>> The Ondaatje archive - his writing methods revealed!

>> Ondaatje's The English Patient was recently awarded the 'Golden Man Booker Prize'.

We will be discussing Warlight at Talking Books - VOLUME's book discussion evening on Thursday 16 August at 5 PM. Join us for a rigorous (or semi-rigorous) and fun (possibly wildly fun) discussion. Bring your opinions! 

10/08/2018 05:35 PM


These books have just arrived. Come and meet them. 
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine           $37
Startling essays on addiction, infertility, feminism, depression, rape and other 'unmentionable' subjects from a remarkable new Irish writer.
"I’ve never read anything quite like these essays. Pine’s fluent intelligence flows through each question, each dilemma, in its own inimitable way. It’s the kind of book you want to give to everyone, especially young women and men, so that we can learn together to take ourselves and each other more seriously." - Irish Times
"Do not read this book in public: it will make you cry." - Anne Enright
>> Emilie Pine on her father's alcoholism
A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen           $38
In the summer of 2008, Andrei Kaplan moves from New York to Moscow to look after his ageing grandmother, a woman who survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia’s violent capitalist transformation. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can’t always remember who he is. Andrei learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly – but surprisingly sharp! – grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a café to send emails, and eventually some friends, including an activist named Yulia. A Terrible Country is a compelling novel about ageing, radical politics, Russia at a crossroads, and the difficulty – or impossibility – of actually changing one’s life.
"By turns sad, funny, bewildering, revelatory, and then sad again, A Terrible Country recreates the historical-psychological experience of returning, for twenty-first-century reasons, to a country one’s parents left in the twentieth century. It’s at once an old-fashioned novel about the interplay between generational roles, family fates, and political ideology, and a kind of global detective mystery about neo-liberalism (plus a secret map of Moscow in terms of pickup hockey). Gessen is a master journalist and essayist, as well as a storyteller with a scary grasp on the human heartstrings, and A Terrible Country unites the personal and political as only the best novels do." — Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot 
"Like Primo Levi’s masterpiece If Not Now, When?, A Terrible Country makes the emotional case for an unfamiliar politics. Its critique of the Russian mafia state is balanced by a deeply humanistic attention to common decency. I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to a busy person who otherwise refuses to touch fiction. The only up-to-the-minute, topical, relevant, and necessary novel of 2018 that never has to mention Trump." — Nell Zink, author of The Wallcreeper
We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry     $35
Hours after the 2011 Christchuch Earthquake, Kaikoura-based doctor Chris Henry crawled through the burning CTV building to rescue those who were trapped. Six years later, his daughter Chessie interviews him in an attempt to understand the trauma that led her father to burnout, in the process unravelling stories and memories from her own remarkable family history. A remarkable interrogation of the personal fractures wrought by trauma.
>> The other side of bravery.
Doing Our Bit: The campaign to double the refugee quota by Murdoch Stephens         $15
How can a personal conviction build into a national campaign, and how can a campaign lead to a change in government policy? 
>> Small steps
 Dictator Literature: A history of despots through their writing by Daniel Kalder      $37
The crimes of tyrants against their people have been well documented, but what of their crimes against literature? Theoretical works, spiritual manifestos, poetry collections, memoirs and even romance novels - what relationship do these books have to their despotic authors' other spheres of action? Fascinating, surprisingly funny. 
Wrestliana by Toby Litt        $32
Toby Litt's ancestor, William Litt, was a champion Cumberland Wrestler but also almost certainly a smuggler - and definitely published poet and novelist. A huge and fascinating man, William was also troubling: he ended his life in poverty and exile. Using the nineteenth century as a guide, Wrestliana asks vital questions about modern-day masculinity, competition, and success. 
>> Read an extract.
>> William Litt's Wrestliana (1860).
>> Podcast
A Matter of Fact: Talking truth in a post-truth world by Jess Berentson-Shaw       $15
In an age when the only thing that spreads faster than information is misinformation, how should we think about and communicate about contentious issues? Berentson-Shaw has some advice. 

Treasures of Tāne: Plants of Ngāi Tahu by Rob Tipa       $50
A guide to the traditional uses of native plants in the South Island, and to the traditions, folklore, stories and histories surrounding their gathering and use. 

Nowhere Nearer by Alice Miller      $25
Is nowhere a place we can get closer to? How does history prevent us from seeing the present? These poems are a fertile and dangerous confluence of cultural streams. 
"Alice Miller looks hard at history's terrifying straight lines, yet time and again turns to the obsessive, sometimes redemptive circlings of art. She knows that in a universe ruled by time and death, words can both rescue and destroy us, sometimes in a single utterance." - Bill Manhire
Paper: Material, medium, magic edited by Nicola von Velsen and Neil Holt       $95
This excellent book covers every aspect of paper: its history, composition, production, application, and trade. Beginning with the anatomy of paper and its earliest forms, this book looks at paper as a symbol of political and economic importance and as a carrier of ideas, from literature to art, design, and music. It looks at the different surfaces, opacities, weights and volumes of paper and how it is used for printing, typography, graphics, and maps as well as a vehicle for origami, architecture, and fashion.

The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros and Julie Morstad         $30

A beautiful picture book telling of a Greek girl who loses the trunk containing her dress on arrival in a new country, and how, when the dress finally finds the girl again, although the girl is now to big for the dress, the dress is just the right size for her daughter. 
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy          $30
Set in post-war Switzerland, Jaeggy's novel begins simply and innocently enough: "At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Appenzell". But there is nothing truly simple or innocent here. The narrator describes life as a captive of the school and her designs to win the affections of the seemingly perfect new girl, Frederique. As she broods over her schemes as well as on the nature of control and madness, the novel gathers a suspended, unsettling energy. 
"Dipped in the blue ink of adolescence, Fleur Jaeggy's pen is an engraver's needle depicting roots, twigs, and branches of the tree of madness, growing in the splendid isolation of the small Swiss garden of knowledge into full leaf until it obscures every perspective. Extraordinary prose. Reading time is approximately four hours. Remembering time, as for its author: the rest of one's life." - Joseph Brodsky
>> The austere fiction of Fleur Jaeggy.
>> Read Thomas's reviews of some of Jaeggy's other books
The Circus: A visual history by Pascal Jacob          $66
Using over 200 circus-related artworks from the French National Library's collections, Pascal Jacob tells the story of travelling entertainers and their art and trade. From nomadic animal tamers of the Dark Ages to European jugglers and acrobats of the 1800s, from the use of the circus as Soviet propaganda to the 20th-century Chinese performance art renaissance, this is a fascinating and attractive book. 
>> The horrific and the entertaining are never far apart
Sport and the New Zealanders: A history by Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson       $65
"Those two mighty products of the land, the Canterbury lamb and the All Blacks, have made New Zealand what she is," wrote Dick Brittenden in 1954. To what extent was this true? Have things changed since then? How important is sport to New Zealanders' idea of themselves? Is there something suspect about professionalism? What role does sport play on a personal and social level? How has this changed and how is it changing? 
Sports are Fantastic Fun! by Ole Könnecke     $35
Animals, however, are untroubled by such considerations: for them, sports are entirely about enthusiasm and participation. 

Pathway of the Birds: The voyaging achievements of Maori and their Polynesian ancestors by Andrew Sharp          $50

New World, Inc.: How England's merchants founded America and launched the British Empire by John Butman and Simon Targett        $55
In the mid-sixteenth century, England was a small and relatively insignificant kingdom on the periphery of Europe, and it had begun to face a daunting array of social, commercial and political problems. Struggling with a single export - woollen cloth - a group of merchants formed arguably the world's first joint-stock company and set out to seek new markets and trading partners. It was a venture that relied on the very latest scientific innovations and required an extraordinary appetite for risk. At first they headed east, and dreamed of Cathay, with its silks and exotic luxuries. Eventually, they turned west, and so began a new chapter in history. 
I Am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale      $23
Year Ten begins with a jolt for best friends and neighbours Wren and Milo. Along with Hari, Juliet, Ben and Adie, they tell a story of friendship, family, wild crushes, bitter feuds, and the power of a portrait.
Fashioned from Nature by Edwina Ehrman and Emma Watson     $53
An interesting and well illustrated survey of ways in which fashion design has been influenced by the natural world. 
2062: The world that A.I. made by Toby Walsh        $40
Walsh considers the impact AI will have on work, war, economics, politics, everyday life and even death. Will automation take away most jobs? Will robots become conscious and take over? Will we become immortal machines ourselves, uploading our brains to the cloud? How will politics adjust to the post-truth, post-privacy digitised world? When we have succeeded in building intelligent machines, how will life on this planet unfold?

A Long Island Story by Rick Gekoski         $37
A family is subjected to pressures from within and from without in this novel set in McCarthy-era suburban Long Island. 

Coming To It: Selected poems by Sam Hunt         $30
>> On the road in 1980
>> Catching the tide in 1988. 
>> Ordinary People (2014).
VUP Classics!
Victoria University Press have re-issued four highlights from their list. Click through to find out more:
End of the Golden Weather by Bruce Mason      $20
Lifted by Bill Manhire       $20
Breakwater by Kate Duignan     $25
Nga Uruora by Geoff Park        $35

09/08/2018 10:04 AM

2018 Winners
(Judges' comments)

Click through to reserve your copies

Aotearoa: The New Zealand story by Gavin Bishop (Puffin)         $40
This book stood out for the judges as one which is innovative in its concept and format – they’d seen nothing quite like it before in New Zealand children’s publishing. It is masterful in its execution – a work of art that bears repeated and thoughtful viewing and reading of its vibrant and informative illustrations. It is also a book of enduring significance in the canon of New Zealand children’s literature – a landmark title which will stand the test of time. This is a story of nation and of family, illustrating our unique place in the world, and showing us the landscapes, event, and personalities that have built our culture and identity. It is a book for all ages, a bountiful celebration of Aotearoa, and a most worthy Supreme Winner.

I Am Jellyfish by Ruth Paul (Puffin)        $20
The text and illustration perfectly complement each other in this humour-filled tale of small but mighty. The layout of each page has been carefully thought out, through clever page orientation drawing the reader in and down into the perilous deep, where our luminous hero shines brightly. The colour palette and attention to detail invite the reader to linger over the pages and to reflect the emotions of the main characters as they descend into peril and the strong pink arms of the giant squid. When the unlikely hero, Jellyfish, saves and admonishes Swordfish, it’s a delightful and satisfying rescue. This is a book for all the unsung small heroes and it will be giggled over and read again and again.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)          $19
In these days of climate change and worry about the future, Bren MacDibble brings us the dystopian vision of a future without bees; instead, agile children perform the bees’ tasks. The feisty heroine, 10-year-old Peony, has a passion for her family and the importance of her life in the country. The author has crafted a story of contrasts – city and country, rich and poor, kindness and cruelty. Flawed but genuine characters exist in a troubled world where violence is an everyday occurrence – yet still there is hope, seen through Peony’s eyes as she fiercely fights for her family and the life she loves. This is a tale to fire young readers with awareness and with courage for the future.

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant)         $23
In the Dark Spaces is a high concept science fiction novel which hums with character and bravery, a strong sense of family, and aliens – big feathery aliens, who communicate in whistles. The author cleverly constructs a world which is engrossing, tense and irresistible; her skill at drawing the reader into an unfamiliar world is extraordinary. This book has so much to offer a young adult audience, and the sheer brilliance of its construction and the imagined world within its pages is stunning. Readers of any age will find a story that they can relate to, and also an impressive tale of world-class calibre. Such thrilling writing is indeed deserving of the highest award in its category.

Aotearoa: The New Zealand story by Gavin Bishop (Puffin)         $40
Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is a wonderfully bold and abundant book, large in format and in scope. It takes us from Aotearoa’s pre-history to the modern day with stories of the people, places and events that have shaped us. The illustrations are dramatic and detailed, full of colour and pattern, with mātauranga Māori integrated throughout. They are complemented by minimal text, providing snippets of information which provide context and inspiration for readers to find out more. The large format gives generous scope for innovative and varied page design, leading us through a wealth of facts, ideas and details which inform, intrigue and entertain. This is a book for every home, school and library, a book for reading, re-reading and sharing with all ages.

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten tales from the deep, dark woods by Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)          $28
Craig Phillips has brought ten fantastical stories, drawn from mythology and fairy tales from around the globe, to life. They are made new in Phillips’ superb graphic stylings – each tale has its own individual and perfectly appropriate drawing style and colour palette. The skilful diversity of frame and layout, stroke and point of view, bring a freshness to the familiar, and delight to the previously unknown. The comic format is executed masterfully in this excellent publication and will be cherished by young and old.

Tu Meke Tūī! by Malcolm Clarke, FLOX (Hayley King) and Evelyn Tobin (Mary Egan)        $20
Me whakanui ka tika i te tohungatanga o te kaiwhakamāori, ā kupu, ā hā nei kia tino rongo i te wāirua, i tiro ā-Māori ki tōna ake ao. Ko te kīwaha Tu meke Tūī!, tētehi te tū ohorere, tērā atu he whakamiha mō tētehi mahi i whakamiharo. Tu Meke Tūī! showcases the expertise of translator Evelyn Tobin, who skilfully captures the breath and spirit of this story by Malcolm Clarke, locating it within a Māori viewpoint. With exquisite illustrations by FLOX, this is a feel-good story that encourages its young readers to appreciate each other’s differences and to see that helping out in times of trouble can end up better than expected.

Dawn Raid by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith (Scholastic)         $18
Dawn Raid is a vividly drawn snapshot of the 1970s, packed full of laugh-out-loud Pasifika humour. From the quest to find white go-go boots that fit to life on the milk run and avoiding boiled cabbage, Sofia navigates life with style. Issues of Pasifika identity and activism run throughout this book but are lightly woven into the story. Sofia’s growing political awareness of the dawn raids and their injustice and impact are sensitively told. This is a great story, and hugely relevant in our current geo-political climate. It will help children understand how political decisions about immigration that appear to only affect one group of people can have far-reaching implications for all our society.

04/08/2018 08:15 PM

What have we been reading? What will you read next?
Our reviews and recommendations, as well as numerous events and competitions, can be discovered in our latest NEWSLETTER:

BOOKS @ VOLUME #86 (4.8.18)

04/08/2018 08:12 PM


The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn  {Review by STELLA}
Scenario: You’re standing in the Mall of America looking at the bling. Next thing you know you come to on the floor with a necklace in your hand and the world altered. There is no one around: no checkout operators, no other customers in what only a moment ago was a crowded and bustling hive of commercial activity. What has happened? - a fire alarm, a natural disaster? No: the disappearance of 95% of the world, human and object. Not only are people missing, so are things. Eerily, shelves are bare save for the odd things. No rhyme. No reason. More like a fire sale after the rush, a few items remaining dotted here and there. Meet Mira. The Rending and the Nest is a post-apocalyptic novel with a young woman at its centre. Mira is seventeen when the Rending takes place. Five years on, she is living in a rudimentary community called Zion with a handful of other survivors, plucking an existence out of the ‘piles’, growing basic root vegetables and hunting the odd mammal still in existence. Life is now known as the After and most try not to think about the Before and all that they have loved and lost. Like many other novels of this genre, there is a lack of resources, non-existent infrastructure (this seems to collapse fairly instantly), communication reverting to physical meetings between groups or individuals (in Zion ‘visitors’ are allowed to stay only for a maximum of seven days), and new social structures - usually based on a mash-up of previous social norms, survivalist instincts and piecemeal religious rituals. And as with several recent fictions, the issue of fertility is a key element in this novel. Several novels, perhaps echoing our falling fertility rate in Western nations (due to social or environmental factors) have been concerned with reproduction, lack of fertile women and control of those that can birth - The Handmaid’s Tale was a forerunner. In Schwehn’s novel, she has taken this concept to another level. There are few children left in the After, and no babies have been born for several years. When Mira’s best friend Lana (the community’s prostitute - there are more men than women in Zion) falls pregnant there is curiosity and caution. Lana has a normal pregnancy but gives birth to an object - a plastic doll. As Lana descends into a malaise, the community carries on but is increasingly unsettled by this and subsequent object births from the other mothers. Lana’s depression is broken by the arrival of the charismatic Michael who has come from the Zoo, a place avoided by the Zionists for the rumours they have heard. Michael is recording stories, stories which he will use to lure inhabitants to the Zoo. And here the story really heats up, as Kaethe Schwehn delves into the psyche of survival and power. If you find dystopia intriguing add this one to your reading pile, alongside The PowerThe Book of the Unnamed MidwifeThe Book of Joan and Station Eleven

04/08/2018 08:10 PM


Água Viva by Clarice Lispector      {Review by THOMAS}
A jellyfish is an entity that exists only as a skin suspended in a continuum, dependent upon and at the mercy of that continuum. Clarice Lispector’s novel Água Viva (‘living water’ or ‘jellyfish’ in Portuguese) takes the form of a fragmented interior monologue addressed by an ‘I’ to a ‘you’ from whom the ‘I’ has recently been separated and liberated. Other than being a constraining force, we learn nothing of this ‘you’, so it could be an element of the same person as the ‘I’ as much as it could be another person (of course, the same could be said of the characters of all novels so this is a bit of an idle speculation). The liberation experienced by the ‘I’ is a dissolution of form (is ‘you’ form per se?), a surrender to the forces which, to her, underlie and animate the medium of fiction. As with a jellyfish, the novel reveals more of the currents and fertility of its medium than it is concerned with any of the more solid containers (plot, character, development) into which the medium is, by convention, constrained. “This is not a book because this isn’t how anyone writes.” The novel, so to call it, is a conscious membrane given held up and animated by, and bourn by the storms and currents of, the vast unconscious tohubohu of its medium. “I’m after whatever is lurking behind thought.” The work seeks only to give access to the instant, or, “more than the instant, I want its flow,” wrested from the imposed concept of time upon which linear narratives depend. “The next moment, do I make it? Or does it make itself?” In some ways the novel is an interrogation of the tension between the ecstatic hyperawareness of a single moment, relieved of illusions of past and present but transforming itself by its innate momentum, and the configuration of that eternal moment in written form. “What I say is pure present and this book is a straight line in space. Even if I say ‘I lived’ or ‘I shall live’ it’s present because I’m saying them now.” Lispector’s attempts to write a novel totally free of the dependence upon being ‘about’ anything, to “write with my whole body, loosing an arrow that will sink into the tender and neuralgic centre of the word” in an attempt to use words as an attempt to touch a reality beyond words: “Writing is the method of using the word as bait: the word fishing for whatever is not word. Once whatever is between the lines is caught, the word can be tossed away in relief.” All writing is fundamentally about writing, but Lispector is exploring the possibility that writing, properly examined, may give access to something beyond it that it also obscures. “Reality has no synonyms. I want to feel in my probing hands the living and quivering nerve of today.” She wants to access the “lucid darkness, luminous stupidity” which can only be found somewhere beyond meaning: “I renounce having a meaning. … I may not have meaning but it is the same lack of meaning that a pulsing vein has.” Attaining liberation is simultaneously an extinction, the ends of the circle meet, meaning resembles inanity, individuality is indistinguishable from cliché, the inspired segues into the unreadable. “I, anonymous work of anonymous reality only justifiable as long as my life lasts. And then? Then all that I lived will be a poor superfluity. When I die, I’ll never have been born and lived.” Fertile mud is, after all, still mud. But, there, despite it all, is the ‘I’, still pulsing, still irresolvable, still clamouring for an existence that neither be contained or expressed. “They wanted me to be an object. I’m an object. An object dirty with blood. That creates other objects and the typewriter creates all of us. It demands. The mechanism demands and demands my life. But I don’t totally obey: If I must be an object let me be an object that screams. What saves me is the scream.”

04/08/2018 12:53 PM

This week's Book of the Week was recently awarded the over-all Best Book award at the 2018 PANZ Book Design Awards. New China Eye Witness: Roger Duff, Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy by James Beattie and Richard Bullen (published by Canterbury University Press) documents a group of objects given to the Canterbury Museum by Rewi Alley and uses them to provide insight into the 1956 visit to China of a group of New Zealand cultural notables (including Roger Duff, James Bertram, Evelyn Page, Angus Ross and Ormond Wilson) and the negotiations with the Chinese government needed to circumvent its own ban on the export of antiquities. In the end, seven crates of uncommonly interesting artefacts were shipped to New Zealand. The book includes Roger Duff's diary of the visit, snapshots, illustrations, and plates of a selection of artefacts, as well as Chinese translation by Xiongbo Shi.

>> The book earned designer Aaron Beehre a raft of prizes at the 2018 PANZ Book Design Awards

>> How did Canterbury Museum come to acquire the largest collection of Chinese antiquities in New Zealand? 

>> The entire stunning collection can be viewed on-line

>> Rewi Alley, the most famous New Zealander in China

>> The New Zealand China Friendship Society was founded in 1952 to further the work of Rewi Alley and to help New Zealanders learn about China

GIVEAWAY. We have a copy of New China Eye Witness to give away, courtesy of Canterbury University Press. To go in the draw, tell us (books[at]volume[dot]nz) who donated the collection of Chinese antiquities described in the book to the Canterbury Museum. The winner will be drawn on 17.8.18.

03/08/2018 05:39 PM

(They're new.)
Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieusecq           $35
A novel that challenges our ideas about the future, about organ-trafficking, about identity, clones, and the place of the individual in a surveillance state. In the near future, a woman writes from the depths of a forest. Her body, like the world around her, is falling apart - she's down to one eye, one kidney, one lung. Before she was a psychotherapist, treating patients who had suffered trauma. Every two weeks she visited her 'half' ' a comatose double, whose body parts were available whenever needed. As a form of resistance the woman flees, along with other fugitives and their halves. But life in the forest is disturbing too - the reanimated halves behave like uninhibited adolescents, and when she sees a shocking image of herself on video, are her worst fears confirmed?
"‘Once again, Darrieusecq gives us a passionate investigation into the deficiencies, transformations and lapses in our humanity. A little like Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, she shows how literature is our best means to disrupt functionality." - Focus Vif
>> Read an extract
>> A dream of the forest
The Trilogy of Two by Juman Malouf         $25
Identical twins Sonja and Charlotte are musical prodigies with extraordinary powers. Born on All-Hallows-Eve, the girls could play music before they could walk. They were found one night by Tatty, the Tattooed Lady of the circus, in a pail on her doorstep with only a note and a heart-shaped locket. They've been with Tatty ever since, roaming the Outskirts in the circus caravans, moving from place to place.But lately, curious things have started to happen when they play their instruments. During one of their performances, the girls accidentally levitate their entire audience, drawing too much unwanted attention. Soon, ominous Enforcers come after them, and Charlotte and Sonja must embark on a perilous journey through enchanted lands in hopes of unlocking the secrets of their mysterious past. A wonderful illustrated story.
"Full of wonders. Vivid and attractive." - Philip Pullman
>> Watch the trailer, meet the characters and read the sample
Other People's Houses by Lore Segal           $20
An autobiographical novel of Segal's experience of leaving Austria for Britain on the Kindertransports, and of living as a refugee and finally getting visas for her parents to join her. 
"Moving and newly relevant. if you translate Segal's beautiful, elliptical prose into today’s terms, her story becomes both radical and unsettling." - Guardian
Wild Land by Peter and Beverly Pickford         $90
A stunning large-format book of stunning large-format photographs of stunning large-format landscapes devoid of even the slightest human impact. You will want this. 
The Button War by Avi        $28
World War One. A small village in Poland. After the Germans bomb the schoolhouse and the long-residing Russian soldiers prepare to leave the area, Patryk’s small, isolated village is suddenly a whirlwind of activity. Inspired by the frequent comings and goings of military men, Jurek, the cruel, conniving leader of Patryk’s group of classmates, declares a daring challenge: whoever procures the best button from a soldier’s uniform gets to be king. Patryk is determined to beat Jurek at his own game, but he is no match for Jurek’s determination to win at all costs, even as the game turns deadly. 
The Wind at My Back by Paul Maunder           $35
In this personal and lyrical exploration of what it means to ride a bicycle, Maunder explores how our memories have a dialogue with landscape and how cycling and creativity are connected. 
>> Flann O'Brien's atomic theory
What We Think About When We Think About Football by Simon Critchley       $18
What happens when Critchley's pointy head is focused on the inflated sphere of a football? How can the 'beautiful game' be a way of thinking about philosophy, society, identity and poetics? 
Bogotá 39 - New Voices from Latin America        $27
39 authors under 40 years old, from 15 countries, some known; many to discover. Exciting. Gabriela Jauregui, Juan Pablo Roncone, Diego Zúñiga, Martin Felipe Castagnet, Lolita Copacabana, Diego Erlan, Mauro Libertella, Samanta Schweblin; Luciana Sousa, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Frank Báez, Laia Jufresa, Jesús Miguel Soto, Mauro Javier Cardenas, Mónica Ojeda, Natalia Borges Polesso, Mariana Torres, Liliana Colanzi, Damián González Bertolino, Valentin Trujillo, María José Caro, Juan Manuel Robles, Brenda Lozano, Claudia Ulloa Donoso, Giuseppe Caputo, Juan Cárdenas, Juan Esteban Constaín, Daniel Ferreira, Felipe Restrepo Pombo, Cristian Romero, Sergio Gutiérrez Negrón, Carlos Fonseca, Alan Mills, Valeria Luiselli, Emiliano Monge, Eduardo Rabasa, Daniel Saldaña Paris, Gonzalo Eltesh, Eduardo Plaza.
Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman         $33
A search for belonging turns into a riotous satire of identity politics in this wildly irreverent coming-of-age story.
"Lexi Freiman is a savage writer, hilarious and brilliant, and in Inappropriation, she has reframed the traditional coming-of-age story, tackling it with irreverence and acid wit. This is a daring book, thrillingly of our moment." - Emma Cline, author of The Girls
"Inappropriation is sly and risky, but also sweet, a wickedly funny machine built to make us laugh and think. The comic novel has a bold new voice in Lexi Freiman, and she could not have come along at a better time." - Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
Alone by Christophe Chabouté     $37
An outstanding graphic novel. On a tiny lighthouse island far from the rest of the world, a hermit lives out his existence. Every week a supply boat leaves provisions, yet the fishermen never leave their boat, and never meet him.Years spent on this deserted rock, with imagination his sole companion, has made the lighthouse keeper something more than alone, something else entirely. For him, there is nothing beyond the horizon. But, one day, a new boatman steps onto the island...  

Cloud Hotel by Julian Hanshaw         $40
Remco knows he is special. He was chosen. He thinks that God took a shine to him, when a bright light in a clear northern sky brought him to the incredible Cloud Hotel. It’s a palace of wonders, an escape from the world, and a place to be alone. Well, almost alone. But now it’s time to check out, and the hotel’s last two guests must race against time to find what’s been lost, before they overstay their welcome. Graphic novel. 
"Crisp of line and hypnotically peculiar, Hanshaw deftly suspends us between dream and reality, as good comics do. As in life, the harder we look the more we see, and the stranger things invariably become." — Shaun Tan
>> From Julian's brain
>> Not to be confused with this "luxury budget" hotel
Family: New vegetable classics to comfort and nourish by Hetty McKinnon        $40
Build a repertoire of enjoyable vegetarian food loved by families of varying backgrounds. The family stories and then-and-now photographs are delightful, too. 
Sharp: The women who made an art out of having an opinion by Michelle Dean          $38
A sharp group biography of writers who demonstrated and importance and benefits of not holding their tongues. Includes Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. 
"This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement." - Meg Wolitzer, New York Times 
The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid by Oliver Byrne       $45
First published in 1847, Byrne's book of coloured illustrations of Euclid's Elements remains a design exemplar (and preceded Mondrian's investigations into colour geometry by almost a century. 
Floral Contemporary: The renaissance of flower design by Olivier Dupon        $60
38 floral designers. 
Tyrant: Shakespeare on power by Stephen Greenblatt     $45
As an ageing, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social and psychological roots and the twisted consequences of tyranny. What Shakespeare discovered in his characters remains remarkably relevant today. He shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and narcissistic appetites of demagogues and imagined how they might be stopped. 
"Scholarly and highly entertaining." - The Guardian
Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan            $23
Jane's father disappears during an earthquake and Jane must enter a dangerous place between worlds, a place with shifting rooms and magical traps, to search for him. But she is not the only one tracking her father, whose secrets have drawn the attention of sinister powers. Can Jane and her new friends prevail? The start of an exciting new series. 

Imperial Tea Party: Family, politics and betrayal, The ill-fated British and Russian royal alliance by Frances Welch            $33
Apart from the marriage of Tsarevich Nicholas to Victoria's favourite granddaughter Alix, the royal families met three times: in Balmoral, in Revel and on the Isle of Wight before Revolution removed the Russians from the equation. King George denied his Romanov cousins refuge in Britain in 1917. 

Bonkers About Beetles by Owen Davey       $30
Lots of insect information illustrated in an appealing retro style. 
>> Others in the same series
Tove Jansson: Life, art, words by Boel Westin         $33
Moomins! Sculpture! Painting! Design! Relationships! Fiction! An island!
When Galaxies Collide by Lisa Harvey-Smith        $37
The Andromeda Galaxy is rushing towards us at 400,000 kilometres an hour. This book is a guide to the night sky and its wonders (black holes, pulsars, red stars, blue stars) with a fresh urgency - when the Andromeda Galaxy collides with ours in 5.86 billion years, will we be prepared? 
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig        $30
The societies we live in are increasingly making our minds ill, making it feel as though the way we live is engineered to make us unhappy. What can we do about this? 
Watched by Marina Budhos         $21
Naeem is a Bangledeshi teenager living in Queens, New York, who thinks he can charm his way through anything. But then mistakes catch up with him. So do the cops, who offer him an impossible choice - spy on his Muslim neighbours and report back to them on shady goings-on, or face a police record.
 “Watched will pull you into its world with magnetic, graceful power, and deeply touching scenes of immigrant life and relationships. A hauntingly perfect, potent story for this moment.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Habibi 

Milkman by Anna Burns         $33
Set in an unnamed city but with an astonishing, breath-shorteningly palpable sense of time and place, Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. The story of inaction with enormous consequences and decisions that are never made, but for which people are judged and punished.
Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize
Front Desk by Kelly Yang         $20
Ten year-old Mia Tang moved from Hong Kong to the US for a better life, a freer life, but so far, it's a life where she runs the front desk of a motel while her parents clean rooms. And she's not even allowed to use the swimming pool. Based on the author's experience as an immigrant. 
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Island by Behrouz Boochani          $38
Since 2013, Kurdish jounralist Boochani has been held by the Australian government of Manus island in contravention of international law. While there he has managed to surreptitiously write this book about his experiences. 
>> Boochani has also been involved in the making of this film
The Accidental Memoir by Eve Makis and Anthony Cropper        $28
A workbook of approachable prompts and exercises for life writing. 

31/07/2018 10:37 AM

{Reviews by Thomas}
Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes      $32
“Who knows? Maybe something valuable in these notes.” Does a series of notes on how a work might come to be written itself constitute a work? The day after his mother’s death in 1977, Barthes began writing observations on his mourning for her on small slips of paper. The fact that he isolated this accumulation from his other work (Camera Lucida, also addressing loss and memory, but via consideration of photography, specifically a photograph of his mother, was also written in this period) as well as intimations that making these notes into a book would bring the process of mourning to a close, rather than writing a book for posterity, as, he admits, has been the case for his previous books, suggests that had Barthes not had an unfortunate encounter with a laundry van in 1980, he might have used these notes to write a book. These notes are not that book, but it could be the case that these notes, for all their inconsistencies, vaguenesses and banalities, make a rawer and more compelling book than if they had been made into the book that Barthes had perhaps intended (this might also not be the case, of course), for the notes sketch nebulae from which diamonds might be compressed (if that was Barthes’s creative process) and demonstrate that his more rigorously intellectual works have emotional bases that they are perhaps constructed to conceal. Of his mother’s recent death (he  had shared an apartment with her for 60 years), Barthes writes, “I don’t want to talk about it, for fear of making literature out of it, although as a matter of fact literature originates within these truths.” Instead, he observes himself and his mourning: “In taking these notes, I’m trusting myself to the banality that is in me.” His loss alters the way he sees both life and literature, emphasising the significance of the seemingly banal and diminishing the importance of the seemingly profound. “Everywhere, I see each individual under the aspect of ineluctably having-to-die. And no less obviously, I see them as not knowing this to be so.” “My suffering is inexpressible but all the same utterable,” he notes. It is the very shortcomings of language, the necessity of labelling his suffering as intolerable, that makes his suffering tolerable. “The indescribableness of my mourning results from my failure to hystericise it. Maman’s death is perhaps the one thing in my life that I have not responded to neurotically. My grief has not been hysterical; doubtless, more hysterically parading my depression, I would have been less unhappy. I see that the non-neurotic is not good.” “Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering,” writes Barthes, and, despite his assurances that this will not happen (“my mourning does not wear away, because it is not continuous” (“I waver between the observation that I’m unhappy only by moments, and the conviction that in actual fact I am continually, all the time, unhappy.”)), his mourning does in fact wear away, “gradually narcissism gives way to a sad egoism.” Narcissism being a literary mode; egoism not, the diary becomes sporadic and less focused as this process advances. Early on, Barthes states, “I live in my suffering, and that makes me happy,” but eventually he has trouble maintaining his identification with his mother (“henceforth and forever I am my own mother,” he had said), and his unhappiness changes its texture: “I left a place where I was unhappy and it did not make me happy to leave it.” Eventually, observing the exhaustion of grief in the maintenance of its referents, he concludes, “we don’t forget, but something vacant settles in.”
In the Dark Room by Brian Dillon     $40
Unless we are wrested by a pervasive trauma from the entire set of circumstances which constitute our identities, which are always contextual rather than intrinsic, our memories are never kept solely within the urns of our minds, so to call them, but are frequently prodded, stimulated and remade by elements beyond ourselves, or, indeed, are outsourced to these elements. Brian Dillon’s In the Dark Room is thoughtful examination of the way in which his memories of his parents, who both died as he was making the transition into adulthood, are enacted through the interplay of interior and exterior elements (the book is divided into sections: ‘House’, ‘Things’, ‘Photographs’, ‘Bodies’, ‘Places’). It is the physical world, rather than time, that is the armature of memory: time, or at least our experience of it, is contained in space, is, for us, an aspect of space, of physical extension, of objects. It is through objects that the past reaches forward and grasps at the present. And it is through the dialogue with objects that we call memory that these objects lose their autonomy and become mementoes, bearers of knowledge on our behalf or in our stead. Memory both provides access to and enacts our exclusion from the spaces of the past to which it is bound. In many ways, when the relationship between the object and the memory seem closest, this relationship is most fraught. Photographs, which Dillon describes as “a membrane between ourselves and the world,” are not so much representations as obscurations of their subjects. The subjects of photographs both inhabit an immediate moment and are secured by them in the “debilitating distance” of an uninhabitable past. When Dillon is looking at a photograph of his mother, “the  feeling that she was manifestly present but just out of reach was distinctly painful. … Photography and the proximity of death tear the face from its home and memory and set it adrift in time.” All photographs (and, indeed, all associative objects) are moments removed from time and so are equivalents, contesting with interior memories to be definitive. Photographs, even more than other objects, but other objects also, are mechanisms of avoidance and substitution as much as they are mechanisms of preservation. Memory, illness, death all distort our experience of time, but so does actual experience, and it is this distortion that generates memory, that imprints the physical with experience “spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina” (in the words of George Eliot). Intense experience, especially traumatic experience, death, illness, loss, violence, occlude the normal functions of memory and push us towards the edges of consciousness, touching oblivion as they also imprison us in the actual. As Dillon found, if experience cannot be experienced all at once, the context of the experience can bear us through, but it must be revisited in memory, repeatedly, until the experience is complete, if this is ever possible. Memory will often co-opt elements of surroundings to complete itself, and, especially if associative objects are not present, it will magnify its trauma upon unfamiliar contexts, increasing the separation and isolation it also seeks to overcome. Must the past be faced as directly as possible so that we may at last turn away from it? 
Patient H.M.: A story of memory, madness and family secrets by Luke Dittrich        $30
In 1953, maverick neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville performed a groundbreaking operation on a 27-year-old epileptic patient named Henry Molaison. The operation failed to eliminate Molaison's intractable seizures, but it did have an unintended effect: Henry was left profoundly amnesic, unable to create long-term memories. In a time when all neurological knowledge was based upon aberration and dysfunction, what was learned from this misadventure about both the neurological and the functional aspects of memory? 
>> More about Moliason
Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death by Otto Dov Kulka       $28
A child exposed to experiences of a kind and scale that cannot be assimilated will create their own mythology to make life liveable. Otto Dov Kulka was a child in Auschwitz, and went on to become a prominent historian of the Holocaust. This book is remarkable as it deals specifically with the internal aspects of surviving in an intolerable situation, young Otto’s ‘Metropolis of Death’. One of the tragedies of the Holocaust was the way in which millions of people, each with their own personal narrative, were subsumed by a single narrative (one which led to the gas chambers and crematoria). It is unfortunate that even many of the most sympathetic portrayals and histories tend to reinforce the single narrative, the erasure, and it is interesting to read Kulka express his feelings of alienation when reading or watching accounts of concentration camp experiences. One of Kulka’s achievements in this deeply thoughtful book is to show how an individual can retain that individuality, and even find a sort of beauty and meaning, even under the irresistible weight of a subsuming narrative such as the ‘immutable law of the Great Death’.
The Mind of a Mnemonist by A.R. Luria         $60
'S' was a failure in most ways. He could never hold down a job and he found it difficult to communicate  and understand although he could learn vast tables of figures and recall them accurately seventeen years later. The strange processes of memory he evolved and his inability to forget the pains of childhood, made the simplest prose or poetry an impossible frustration, yet he could memorise whole pages of text in a language he didn't know. An almost magical use of his own imaginative powers enabled him to control his pulse and body temperature, but these same powers blurred the line that divides reality from fantasy. Luria's important study shows that a great gift is just as much a great defect, and that forgetting is essential to functioning sanity, something that a person incapable of forgetting can never achieve. Someone incapable of forgetting is perhaps as remote from having a personality as someone incapable of forming memories or someone whose memories are lost. 
Stammered Songbook: A mother's Book of Hours by Erwin Mortier        $25
Memory and personality are interdependent and could be seen to be aspects of each other. Both are constructs that enable us to function practically and socially, but both are tentative, fragile and vulnerable to erosion. 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. Perhaps our individuality, dependent as it is on language and memory, is what is gradually (or rapidly) eroded in Alzheimer’s, and what is left, the whimpering animal full of fear but occasionally responsive to small immediate comforts, is what we all have in common, what is always at our core, but which we obscure with layers of language, personality, belief and knowledge (all relatively recent evolutionary innovations) in order to function, to survive, to bear existence, to comfort ourselves and others.
W, Or, The memory of childhood by Georges Perec          $30
“I write: I write because we lived together, because I was once amongst them, a shadow amongst their shadows, a body close to their bodies. I write because they left in me their indelible mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life.” Both of Perec’s parents were killed in the 1939-1945 war, his father early on as a French soldier, and, soon after, his mother sent to a death camp. Their young son was smuggled out of Paris and spent the war years in a series of children’s homes and safe villages. “My childhood belongs to those things which I know I don’t know much about,” he writes. W alternates two narratives, the first an attempt by Perec to set down the memories of his childhood and to examine these not only for their accuracy but in order to learn the way in which memory works. Often factual footnotes work in counterpoint to the ‘remembered’ narrative, underscoring the limitations of the experiences that formed it. Right from birth the pull of the Holocaust is felt upon Perec’s personal biography, and his story is being shaped by this force, sucking at it, sucking his family and all stability away. Sometimes he attaches to himself experiences of which he was merely a witness, the memories transformed by remembering and by remembering the remembering, and so forth, and by the infection of memories by extraneous imaginative details. “Excess detail is all that is needed to ruin a memory.” The absences around which these memories circulate fill the narrative with suppressed emotion. The other narrative begins as a sort of mystery novel in Part One, telling how one Gaspard Winckler is engaged by a mysterious stranger to track down the fate of the boy whose name he had unknowingly assumed and who had gone missing with his parents in the vicinity of Terra del Fuego where they had gone in search of an experience that would relieve the boy’s mutism. In Part 2, the tone changes to that of an encyclopedia and we begin to learn of the customs, laws and practices of the land of W, isolated in the vicinity of Terra del Fuego, a society organised exclusively around the principles of sport, “a nation of athletes where Sport and life unite in a single magnificent effort.” Perec tells us that ‘W’ was invented by him as a child as a focus for his imagination and mathematical abilities during a time when his actual world and his imaginative world were far apart, his mind filled with “human figures unrelated to the ground which was supposed to support them, disengaged wheels rotating in the void” as he longed for an ordinary life “like in the storybooks”. Life and sport on W are governed by a very complex system of competition, ‘villages’ and Games, “the sole aim to heighten competitiveness or, to put it another way, to glorify victory.” It is not long before we begin to be uncomfortable with some of the laws and customs of W, for instance, just as winners are lauded, so are losers punished, and all individual proper names are banned on W, with athletes being nameless (apart from an alphanumeric serial number) unless their winnings entitle them to bear, for a time, the name of one of the first champions of their event, for “an athlete is no more and no less than his victories.” Perec intimates that there is no dividing line between a rationally organised society valuing competition and fascism, the first eliding into the second as a necessary result of its own values brought to their logical conclusions. “The more the winners are lauded, the more the losers are punished.” The athletes are motivated to peak performance by systematic injustice: “The Law is implacable but the Law is unpredictable.” Mating makes a sport of rape, and aging Veterans who can no longer compete and do not find positions as menial ‘officials’ are cast out and forced to “tear at corpses with their teeth” to stay alive. Perec’s childhood fantasy reveals the horrors his memoir is unable to face directly. We learn that the athletes wear striped uniforms, that some compete tarred and feathered or are forced to jump into manure by “judges with whips and cudgels.” We learn that the athletes are little more than skin and bone, and that their performances are consequently less than impressive. As the two strands of the book come together at the end, Perec tells of reading of the Nazi punishment camps where the torture of the inmates was termed ‘sport’ by their tormentors. The account of W ends with the speculation that at some time in the future someone will come through the walls that isolate the sporting nation and find nothing but “piles of gold teeth, rings and spectacles, thousands and thousands of clothes in heaps, dusty card indexes, and stocks of poor-quality soap.”
The Toy Catalogue by Sandra Petrignani             $30
"More than the game it's meant for, a plaything is usually remembered for its personal, incidental uses." This beautifully written and evocative alphabetical collection of short pieces about various toys, from abacus to baby doll to yo-yo to model zoo demonstrates how intimate objects become repositories of memory: experiences long forgotten gush forth in the most surprising fashion when we make contact with (or even consider) the objects we had unknowingly so loaded with that experience at some time in the past. Toys are remarkable in this regard: often accorded agency and specificity by children, they reward this dedication by delivering through time something of our lost selves. Although toys are often remembered for their "personal, incidental uses" rather than for their ostensible purposes, Petrignani's book is remarkable for showing how these "personal, incidental uses" are in fact common to all children, everywhere: who has not interacted with an abacus or a kaleidoscope in just the way that Petrignani describes? and who would have realised that these ways of interacting were not only personal?
The Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno           $42
“Writing is a way not to remember but to forget,” suggests Kate Zembrano in this book concerning both her grieving for her mother and her struggle to be free of her mother, who in some ways became more dominating after her death than she was when alive. “Or if not to forget, to attempt to leave behind,” continues Zembrano. The past dominates the present, not so much in the way in which the present is disposed as in the disposition of our minds towards it: that which we are foolish enough to think of as ourself is dependent utterly upon memory, upon the power of what is not us in the past. This dominance by the lost and unreachable (we cannot assail its moment of power for it lies against the flow of time) is most oppressive when we are unaware of it. Paradoxically, we need to remember in order to escape the past and exist more freely (if existing freely is our predilection). But merely to open ourselves to the past through memory is insufficient to free ourselves of it. To gain control it is necessary to assume authorship, not to change what we cannot reach against time, but to create a simulacrum that is experienced in the place of the experience of the past, a replacement that alters the grammar of our servitude, simultaneously a remembering and a forgetting. “In order to liberate myself from the past I have to reconstruct it. I have been a prisoner of my memories and my aim is to get rid of them,” said Louise Bourgeois. Since her mother’s death, Zembrano’s thoughts have been increasingly focussed on her loving but dominating mother, to the extent that her mother is taking over her life (“Sometimes my mouth opens up and my mother’s laugh jumps out. A parlour trick”). Very possibly, this influence was operative when her mother was alive, but it was at least concentrated in a person who could be interacted with and reacted against. Now “she is everywhere by being unable to be located.” Zambreno’s perceptive book is a study, through self-scrutiny, of the ambivalences of grief and of memory, and also of a path beyond grief: “If writing is a way of hoarding memories - what does it also mean to write to disown?” Not that either remembering or forgetting does any favours to the departed. Without an actual person upon whom an identity, a history, a character may be postulated, and without the generation of new information, however minor, that is possible only by living, the definition of that person belongs to anyone and no-one. Identity becomes contested in the absence of the arbiter. What remains but the impress, somewhere in the past, the shape of which must henceforth suffice as a stand-in for the departed? For better or for worse the pull is to the past, towards the unalterable occurrences that have what could almost be considered as a will to persist through whatever has received their impress. And the struggle for authorship is complicated by the persistence of objects. Death instantaneously transforms the everyday into an archive. Zembrano’s visits to her parents’ house in the years after the death of her mother brings her into contact with objects that have lost their ordinariness, the possessions of her mother’s that her father wishes to enshrine, objects that have stultified, that have not been permitted to either lose or accrete meaning. Both comfort and trap, the archive preserves the dominance of the past per se, preserves the fact of loss more than that which has been lost. Advances in medical science have meant that more of our lives, and more of the end period of our lives, has come to be defined by illness. Increasingly few of us reach our end without being overwritten by the story of its approach. Zembrano captures well her mother’s struggle with the disease that killed her, not so much over the her survival or otherwise as over how she would be remembered, over whether the idea others had of her would be replaced by the story of a disease. All memory proceeds as a scuffle between selection and denial, between nostalgia and resentment, between freedom and attachment, between the conflicting needs of actuality and representation. Memory is the first requirement of forgetting. 

28/07/2018 10:02 PM

BOOKS @ VOLUME #85 (28.7.18)

Books new and recommended, events, competitions. 

28/07/2018 09:45 PM

A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Markovits   {Reviewed by STELLA}
The Essingers are landing en masse in New York. First to arrive are the parents, Bill and Liesel, end-career academics, flying in from Arizona. Paul, their New York son is insistent that his wife Dana collects them from the airport despite the inconvenience to their child’s routine and her discomfort at being the first to greet his parents. Next, Jean, the youngest, flipping from understanding to irritable, arrives from London carrying a secret that she wishes to offload. Then Nathan, the eldest and successful law academic, arrives with his two girls in tow. And finally there's the emotional middle child, Susie, with her eldest son Ben, waiting to be judged and sidelined. The siblings arrive over the weekend, as they have for a least a decade, to watch Paul play tennis in the US Open. He’s a professional, semi-successful, top-100 player but he’s peaked (lower than expected) and is on his way down. He wants out and is planning his retirement at 33, much to the disappoint of Bill, and his plans to move to Texas are a surprise to his wife. Benjamin Markovits takes the Essinger family, Jewish and German, with their migrant, working-class backgrounds (Bill’s uncle founded a grocery chain, which started with humble beginnings in lower New York), their successes - academic, sporting and financial - and exposes them down to the core. In doing so he exposes the granular details of contemporary American society, with its prejudices, intolerances, politics, passions, expectations and hypocrisies. Markovits is never polemic or obvious. He keeps the palette small: a family with all its quibbles and care, stuck together, without space to breathe (just as family gatherings can be), over a short period of time - a weekend in New York. The novel moves from Friday night through to Monday morning in an unrelenting and sometimes affectingly repetitive pattern, culminating in all sitting court-side at the first match. Cleverly written, the detailed scenarios dig deep into minutiae as the family traipse around New York and sit around the table eating, arguing, reliving their childhoods and catching up. The viewpoint segues with ease from one character to the next, giving equal weighting and sympathy to all the family members. All the petty emotions are there, alongside the meaningful ones. Liesel wants to retire and move to New York - they are even looking at apartments (Nathan has organised these) - Bill has no intention of leaving Texas - a place where he feels free of his family past. Nathan is considering a move into political bureaucracy and his usually self-assured confidence is being buffeted by doubt and by Jean’s righteousness - or is she right? Jean is at a loss - unhappy but fooling herself that her life is finally on a grown-up trajectory. Susie, the child who gave up her career for children, is constantly looking for approval. Paul, focused on the match ahead, is increasingly remote. This is a story about family, what holds it together, the common threads and experiences that bind each to the other, the shared histories and the past that defines the generations that follow. Markovits uses the Essingers to explore and expose pre-Trump upper-middle-class America and reveal the cracks that can spread through a ‘happy’ family (or a contented society). A Weekend in New York will make you engage with the finest detail but leave you thinking widely. 

28/07/2018 06:14 PM

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things.” Always hinting at experience just beyond the reach of language, Bennett's book is impelled by the rigours of noticing. Encounters with persons and with the infraordinary are treated with equivalence: acute, highly acute, overly acute, observations immediately plunge the narrator’s awareness into the depths of her response (“My head is turned by imagined elsewheres and hardly at all by present circumstances.”), far from the surface at which outward contact may be made, or may be being made, a process that is both deeply isolating, terrifying and protective. Bennett’s unsparingly acute observations of the usually unacknowledged or unacknowledgeable motivations, urges and responses that underlie human interaction and quotidian existence seem here induced by an acceptance or a resignation that is enabled by despair, or is indistinguishable from despair, both a resignation and a panic, perhaps, a panic on the edge of self-dissolution which is perhaps our last resistance to self-dissolution and therefore fundamental to individual existence: the anxiety which all human activity is designed to conceal. Bennett’s is a very individual voice (click here to hear her read a sample), resonating at times with other works of irredeemably isolated interiority, such David Markson’s superb  Wittgenstein’s Mistress or the suppressed hysteria of Thomas Bernhard’s narrators, but tracking entirely her own patterns of thought (I have perhaps made an error here of conflating the author with the narrator, but, if this is an error, it is one hard to avoid in the book in which style and content are inseparable) with an immediacy that precludes the artificially patterning, pseudo-assimilable explanation of a ‘story’. In one excellent section, ‘Control Knobs’, the narrator describes the gradual disintegration of the three knobs that control her cooker and speculates a coming time when the last interchangeable knob breaks and the cooker will become unusable. This reminds her of the counted matches in Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (another novel of irredeemably isolated interiority), which mark the time to the point at which that narrator will no longer be able to light a fire to cook and warm herself. Following a discussion of Bennett’s narrator’s reading and misreading of that book, she returns to an account of the ultimate hopelessness of her attempts to procure new knobs for her cooker. “I feel at a loss for about ten minutes and it’s a sensation, I realise, not dissimilar to indifference. So, naturally, I handle it rather well.”

28/07/2018 03:43 PM

Is love possible in a world in the throes of political and environmental crises? The protagonist of Crudo very much resembles the book's author, Olivia Laing (with some notable intrusions from Kathy Acker), whose 2017 summer and marriage is related in this enjoyable roman-à-clef in ‘real time’ (whatever that means).

>> Read Thomas's review

>> Read an extract from the novel.

>> How to write a novel in seven weeks

>> Which books inspired Crudo?

>> What should we make of Laing's obsession with Kathy Acker?

>> The official Crudo playlist.

>> Why is there a fly on the covers of both the UK (Picador) and US (W.W. Norton) editions of Crudo? What has Laing to say about the UK cover?

>> Other excellent books by Olivia Laing (click through to learn more): 

The Lonely City: Adventures in the art of being alone
When Laing moved to New York in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. 

The Trip to Echo Spring: On writers and drinking
What is the link between alcohol and creativity? Is there a link?

To the River: A journey beneath the surface
Over sixty years after Virginia Woolf drowned in the River Ouse, Olivia Laing set out one midsummer morning to walk its banks, from source to sea. Along the way, she explores the roles that rivers play in human lives, tracing their intricate flow through literature, mythology and folklore.

27/07/2018 05:38 PM


Just out of the carton...

Caroline's Bikini by Kirsty Gunn          $33
"Is it possible for something NOT to happen in a novel?" asks Emily, who has been persuaded by her friend Evan to write the story of his love affair with glamorous former horsewoman Caroline Beresford, an account which becomes Caroline's Bikini (i.e. this book). A playful exploration of the responsibilities of fiction from the author of The Big Music, which was named Book of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. 
>> Read an extract
>> Read Thomas's review of The Big Music
>> Kirsty Gunn's top ten books on unrequited love

OK, Mr Field by Katharine Kilalea        $28
A concert pianist whose wrists are damaged in a train accident uses his insurance payout to buy a house identical to Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye overlooking False Bay, in Cape Town. When his wife leaves him after only a few weeks in the house, the ex-pianist, lacking a personality of his own, begins to be inhabited by the house itself in unusual ways. "A perfectly poised and mad book about chronic loneliness; enigmatic, often dream-like and brilliantly funny." - Irish Times
>> Read an excerpt.
Lala by Jacek Dehnel       $35
Born in Poland just after the First World War and brought up to be a perfect example of her class and generation - tolerant, selfless and brave - Lala is an independent woman who has survived some of the most turbulent events of her times. As she senses the first signs of dementia, she battles to keep her memories alive through her stories, telling her grandson tales of a life filled with love, faithlessness and extraordinary acts of courage. Sweeping from nineteenth-century Kiev to modern-day Poland, Lala is a novel tracking Polish one Polish family through the twentieth century. 
"The prehensile magic of Lala lies in the art of retelling. Dehnel’s work is drawn from life and enriched with intent, with a kind of aesthetic cohesion that bare facts lack." - The Quarterly Conversation
Winner of the Paszport Polityka Award. 
The Big Questions: What is New Zealand's future?         $38
Whatever concerns face us as a country, the decisions we make now, under urgency, will determine the kind of lives future generations will lead. Anne Salmond, Andrew Becroft, Rod Oram, Jacinta Ruru, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Tim Watkin, Derek Handley, Jarrod Gilbert, Stuart McNaughton, David Brougham, Jarrod Haar, Yumiko Olliver-Gray, Golriz Ghahraman, Theresa Gattung, Peter O'Connor, and Leonie Freeman.
History of Violence by Édouard Louis       $37
An encounter between two men turns from attraction to violence, revealing the layers of dispossession, racism, misery, desire and trauma in contemporary French society. Another blistering autobiographical novel from the author of The End of Eddy
>> "Macron will lead voters to the far right.
>> "There is a political violence toward the poor, which existed under Thatcherism and that is today in the process of returning."
Wait, Blink by Gunnhild Øyehaug      $40
Sigrid is a young literature student trying to find her voice as a writer when she falls in love with an older, established author, whose lifestyle soon overwhelms her values and once-clear vision. Trine has reluctantly become a mother and struggles to create as a performance artist. The aspiring movie director Linnea scouts locations in Copenhagen for a film she will never make. As these characters' stories collide and intersect, they find that dealing with the pressures of their lives also means coming to grips with a world both frightening and joyously ridiculous. From the author of the outstanding story collection Knots
"Interior psychological monologues play as if a neuroscientist exploring the conscious mind had reset a functional fMRI to fictional. Wait, Blink is a witty and cerebral braid of events both real and fictional, driven by self-talk, undergirded by literary criticism, and sprinkled with factoids." - World Literature Today
View from the South by Owen Marshall      $40
A very presentable collection of poems, many tagged to specific locations in the South Island, with photographs by Graeme Sydney. 
"Marshall's poems are an exquisite marriage of musicality, observation, elegance and economy. Certain words stand out in his lines like the glint of light on wet ground." - Paula Green

The Storm Keeper's Island by Catherine Doyle         $17
When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet. Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn 's grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise. But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island 's next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

"So magical and wild that it 's like being swept away by the sea." - Katherine Rundell

Zaitoun: Recipes and stories from a Palestinian kitchen by Yasmin Khan        $49
Yasmin Khan harvests black olives from the groves of Burquin in the West Bank, hand-rolls maftool - the plump Palestinian couscous - in home kitchens in Jenin and finds time to enjoy a pint with workers at the Taybeh brewery, which is producing the first Palestinian craft beer. As she feasts and cooks with Palestinians of all ages and backgrounds, she learns about the realities of their everyday lives. Zaitoun includes herb-filled salads, quick pickles, fragrant soups, tender roasted meats and rich desserts, and has a special focus on vegetarian versions of Palestinian classics. 
"A moving, hugely knowledgeable and utterly delicious book." -Anthony Bourdain
Reporter: A memoir by Seymour Hersh         $55
This book gives great insight into the mind of this outstanding journalist, and, through that, further insights into the people and stories he brought to the world's attention, including the Mai Lai massacre and the atrocities at Abu Graib.
"Reporter is just wonderful. Truly a great life, and what shines out of the book, amid the low cunning and tireless legwork, is Hersh's warmth and humanity. This book is essential reading for every journalist and aspiring journalist the world over." - John le Carré

Joining the Dots: A woman in her time by Juliet Gardiner          $25
A fascinating account of the social, political and cultural changes in Britain since World War 2, especially for women, as focused on the life of a particularly keen and involved observer. 
"Refreshingly unconcerned with self-excavation, the beauty of it is in its flow from the particular to the general. The vast consolation and pleasure of this generous book is its conviction that we are all more than one life allows." - Times Literary Supplement

The Archipelago: Italy since 1945 by John Foot        $35
From the silent assimilation of fascists into society after 1945 to the troubling reign of Silvio Berlusconi, and from the artistic peak of neorealist cinema to the celebration of Italy's 150th birthday in 2011, Foot examines both the corrupt and celebrated sides of the country. 

"A lively and meticulously researched account." - Guardian

The Recovering: Intoxication and its aftermath by Leslie Jamison        $45
Who would have thought that account of recovery from addiction could be as fascinating as the account of the train-wreck itself. At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace. From the author of The Empathy Exams.
"Perceptive and generous-hearted. Uncompromising, Jamison is a writer of exacting grace." - Washington Post
Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank         $30
Frank takes on on a tour of the US, a country in the late stages of disintegration, and shows us the results of the mechanisms of inequality, empty status and circumstantial anxiety that have, among other things, delivered Trump to office. 
The Little Swedish Kitchen by Rachel Khoo       $55
100 authentic and achievable recipes, with hints on how to enjoy your life in a Swedish way. 
Eye of the Shoal: A fish-watcher's guide to life, the ocean, and everything by Helen Scales      $33
What is it like to be a fish? Their way of life is radically different from our own, in part because they inhabit a buoyant, sticky fluid in which light, heat, gases and sound behave in odd ways. Fish have evolved many tactics to overcome these challenges, and, in doing so, they have become a way in which we can learn to see the ocean, and life in general, in more profound ways. (Her real name, apparently.)

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown         $17
The inspiring story (first published in 1941) of a group of children who start their own theatre company.

The Immeasurable World: Journeys into desert places by William Atkins        $37
One-third of the earth's surface is classified as desert. Restless, and unhappy in love, William Atkins decided to travel in eight of the world's driest, hottest places: the Empty Quarter of Oman, the Gobi Desert and Taklamakan deserts of northwest China, the Great Victoria Desert of Australia, the man-made desert of the Aral Sea in Kazkahstan, the Black Rock and Sonoran Deserts of the American Southwest, and Egypt's Eastern Desert. What draws humans to deserts?
Slow Down and Grow Something. Cultivate. Cook. Share. by Byron Smith and Tess Robinson        $45
A blueprint for living the good life in the city - how to grow the easiest food plants in small spaces and recipes to make the most of them. 

Wild Sea: A history of the Southern Ocean by Joy McCann        $40
Completely encircling the Earth, the Southern Ocean stretches from Antarctica to the costs of New Zealand, Australia, Africa and South America. It contains a spattering islands, each more remote and wild than the last, and a rich history of explorers, whalers, scientists and settlers, as well as remarkable natural history. The ocean has become an important barometer of climate change and ecological depredation. This book considers this little-known ocean.
 The Finder by Kate Hendrick       $24
When Lindsay meets Elias the signs aren't promising. She's a grungy introvert who doesn't want to talk to anyone. He's a teen fashionista who can't shut up. But since Lindsay tracked down a runaway kid, word has got around that she knows how to find people. And Elias is looking for his birth mother. And he has money. But Lindsay wasn't actually trying to find the runaway. It's just how she looks at the world. That's because someone is missing in Lindsay's life - her identical twin Frankie, who disappeared when they were eight. YA novel. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the building of modern Germany by David Stubbs          $28
The groups that created Krautrock (Faust, Popol Vuh, Neu , Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Düül II, Can, Kraftwerk) considered in the context of a society attempting to come to terms with the atrocities and legacies of World War 2.
>> Popol Vuh, 1971
>> Kraftwerk, 1971
>> Amon Düül II, 1973

Is It Bedtime Yet? Parenting: the hilarious, the hair-raising, the heart-breaking by Emily Writes and friends         $35
There may be no answers, but there are no end of helpful anecdotes. From the NZ author of Rants in the Dark and the blog Emily Writes.
The Spinning Magnet by Alanna Mitchell          $39
Without electromagnetism, life on Earth would not be possible. The quest to understand it began with the idea that the magnet was a physical embodiment of the heavens, possessing as it did its own North and South poles. Is the discovery that, every once in a long while, the Earth 's magnetic poles switch places, significantly weakening the field 's protective power, something we should worry about?
The Biggerers by Amy Lilwall          $33
An unscrupulous scientist is cloning and manipulating embryos to produce miniature humans for a huge and greedy government-backed corporation that tortures them, drugs them with memory suppressants, and sells them as pets—ostensibly to teach 22nd-century children to care lovingly about something other than themselves. What happens when the 'littlers' start to communicate with the 'biggerers' and to develop human capacities? 

Resist! How to be an activist in the Age of Defiance by Michael Segalov        $35
The People Awards by Lily Murray      $25
Celebrate equality with 50 people who changed the world in their own ways. 

22/07/2018 12:09 AM

BOOKS @ VOLUME  #84 (21.7.18)

Our latest newsletter, with our own reviews, a selection of new releases, and a large number of events. 

22/07/2018 12:06 AM


Florida by Lauren Groff     {Reviewed by STELLA}
Lauren Groff’s collection of short stories explores the storm within and the storm without. Brooding, edgy and bruised, the landscape (and its people) in Groff’s words is ‘an Eden of dangerous things’. We encounter alligators waiting at the water’s edge, snakes coiled ready to strike and panthers slinking through the suburban landscape - a landscape at the edge of wilderness - nature never far from creating chaos in the domestic worlds of the characters. The protagonists are the voices of women: women alone, with children (alone); with others yet in solitude. The setting is, as the title of the collection suggests, Florida: swamps, heat, moisture and menacing skies announcing coming storms. Physical hurricanes tear through landscapes and homes while, emotional storms bring revelation and discomfort. In 'Eyewall' a woman confronts the ghosts of her cheating husband, her first love suicided and her father eaten by cancer, while drinking wine in the bathtub - the last sanctuary in the storm that leaves her house standing but devastated. In 'The Midnight Zone', the mother of two young boys falls while changing the light bulb at a remote holiday home. Concussed, she lies on the floor while her children gather to her, bring food and water, awaiting the return of their father as a storm rages around them and a panther, real or metaphysical, prowls outside. In 'Salvador', a middle-aged woman, seemingly in control of her life, is having her monthly holiday in Brazil when she is caught out by a storm which leaves her locked in a small space with an unsavoury local grocer. She realises her vulnerability and feels shockingly alone as she reflects on her life as a carer for her ailing mother in Florida. From the first story in this collection, Groff places the reader in the eyes of observers. A mother walks the street at night to find freedom from the domestic bliss/pressure of small children. A grad student gives up her teaching tenure to live in her station wagon, eventually becoming isolated and part of a growing underclass. Two girls are left abandoned in a beach hut to fend for themselves, waiting for the ‘lady’ who will look after them. Groff takes us to the edges of our civilised worlds and throws us to the wolves - or, as this is Florida - the alligators and panthers who lurk in the gloom. Dark and edgy, these stories are Groff yelling at us to wake up and to push back against the society we accept and sleepwalk through, to see the waste, the fallacy, the degradation of our environment and our emotional shallowness. With clever writing, evocative and carefully calibrated, Lauren Groff has verve and these stories, with their connected themes and sense of place, will sharpen your outlook.

22/07/2018 12:05 AM


Crudo by Olivia Laing    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Olivia Laing wants to be Kathy Acker but she knows that she is not Kathy Acker even though wanting to be Kathy Acker does make you Kathy Acker to some extent. As ‘Kathy’, the protagonist in Laing’s ‘uncooked’ novelCrudo ('crudo' meaning 'raw' or 'uncooked' in Italian), relinquishes, just as did Laing, her solitary life in her fortieth year to marry a man rather older than her and assume a life of quotidian comfort in a world speeding towards climactic, humanitarian and political crises, the difficulties she has in sustaining confident positivity about a shared life isolates and invigorates (and assimilates) the nihilistic punk provocateur ‘Kathy Acker’ within her, the part of her most resistant to, or most anxious about, the changes in her life that are also of course changes in herself. Will she be able to live happily with this man? What will she need to relinquish? Can she face what she will learn about herself? “You think you know yourself inside out when you live alone, but you don’t.” Kathy is both Laing and Acker, Acker as a sort of archetype for Laing, Laing imagining what it might be like to be Acker if Acker were in a situation like Laing’s (the unlikelihood of which makes this a good interrogatory tool). “Writing, she can be anyone. On the page the I dissolves, becomes amorphous, proliferates wildly. Kathy takes on increasingly preposterous guises, slips the knot of her own contemptible identity.” It is the disparity between the two poles in herself that makes the narrator so interesting and so believable. If she does not speak with your voice she speaks with the voice of someone you know. The text is peppered with phrases ‘borrowed’ from texts by Acker (these are indexed at the end), and the disjunction between this punk posturing and accounts of buying socks and fossicking for antiques provides much of the humour and spaciousness of the novel: “What’s the novel about if not getting fucked. / That afternoon, she and her husband decided to go for a walk.” The novel is a roman-à-clef related in ‘real time’ over a period of a few weeks straddling Laing’s marriage in 2017, presented as seemingly spontaneous responses to real events on both a political and a personal level. “She wrote fiction, sure, but she populated it with the already extant, the pre-packaged and the ready-made. There was no need to invent, you could make anything from out of the overflowing midden of the already-done. It was economic but also stylish to help yourself to the grab bag of the actual.” The personal is often presented with deadpan irony; the political as an overarching threat: “We are walking backwards into disaster, braying all the way.” Is love possible or relevant in a disintegrating world? “It was happening to someone, it being unspeakable violence, how could she be happy: the real question of existence.” What degree of detachment or attachment is appropriate with regards not only to our collective issues but to our (often microscopic) personal ones as well? “It was all the same thing, it was the world talking. You couldn’t hate it, or you did but that was just more of the same, another opinionated little voice in an indecently augmented chorus.” Form is the only meaning. As the novel progresses the focus narrows, the temporal grain becomes finer, the observations more microscopic, we are told the time as well as the day, the novel, written in the past tense, pushes harder up against the present. “Kathy was writing everything down in her notebook, and had become abruptly anxious that she might exhaust the past and find herself out at the front, alone on the crest of time.” Sometimes Kathy’s ‘she’ almost becomes an ‘I’ and needs to be pushed back into ‘she’. The novel resolves, rather sweetly, perhaps more sweetly than Laing had originally intended, with Kathy’s unreserved declaration to herself of her love for the man who has become her husband, as she is about to board an aeroplane for a flight to America, as Kathy is about to resolve into Laing, as the past is about to resolve into the present: “She was in it now, she was boarding, there was nowhere to hide.”

21/07/2018 02:18 PM

Our Book of the Week this week is Aliens and Anorexia by Chris Kraus. Following I Love Dick and Torpor , Aliens and Anorexia completes Kraus's trilogy of detonations under the wall that lies between fiction and memoir. Aliens and Anorexia unfolds like a set of Chinese boxes, using stories and polemics to travel through a maze that spirals back into itself. Its characters include Simone Weil, the first radical philosopher of sadness, the artist Paul Thek, Kraus herself, and her virtual S&M partner who’s shooting a big-budget Hollywood film in Namibia while Kraus holes up in the Northwest Woods for the winter to chronicle the failure of Gravity & Grace, her own low-budget independent film. Kraus argues for empathy as the ultimate perceptive tool, and reclaims anorexia from the psychoanalytic girl-ghetto of poor “self-esteem.” Anorexia, Kraus writes, could be an attempt to leave the body altogether: a rejection of the cynicism this culture hands us through its food.

>> Read Thomas's review of I Love Dick.

>> "I'm just a channel for all that shit."

>> What is this 'female consciousness'?

>> Changing lives

>> I Love Dick 'became' a television series

>> Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist'

20/07/2018 05:39 PM

Out of the carton and waiting for you.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh        $38
Fed up with her vapid life, despite all her privileges, a young woman decides to spend a year in narcotic hibernation, supervised by a very unsafe psychiatrist. Is alienation a threat to our personal wellbeing or its safeguard? From the author of the Booker-shortlisted Eileen
"Matter of fact, full of bravado yet always wryly observational. One of the pleasures of reading Moshfegh is her relentless savagery." - Guardian
>> Read an excerpt
>> Another excerpt (with photos!).
>> "I say too much."
>> What's in Moshfegh's fridge? 
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin          $28
The outstanding biographer and literary editor writes an exacting and fascinating book about her own life.
"Moving and beautifully written." - Guardian

The Book by Amaranth Borsuk          $45
In attempting to define what constitutes a 'book' in an age when technology is helping us to re-examine the definitions of many cultural entities, Borsuk covers much interesting ground, both historical and speculative, approaching books as physical objects, as content, as ideas and as interface. 
>> 'The Hand and the Page in the Digital Age.
The Barber's Dilemma, And other stories from Manmaru Street by Koki Oguma          $30
Meet the people who live on Koki Oguma's street in Tokyo. Each sparks a quirky story and a very quirky drawing. A delightful book. 
>> See some of Koki Oguma's drawings
Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill         $80
One of the outstanding members of Christchurch's 'The Group' in the 1940s but realising there was no place for him in New Zealand, MacDiarmid moved to Paris in 1952 and pretty well disappeared from view in this country. He continued (and continues, at the age of 95) to produce and develop, and has had a remarkable career. Only recently has this important expatriate artist been recognised as a missing link in the story of New Zealand art: the 'one that got away'. 
>> Visit Douglas MacDiarmid's website
Before Dawn to Bluff Road / Hollyhocks in the Fog by August Klenzahler          $33
Selected San Francisco poems and selected New Jersey poems from this poet whose work is "ferociously on the move, between locations, between forms, between registers" (Griffin Prize judges' citation).
>> Read a few of his poems here
The Visitor by Antje Damm         $30
Will the little boy who visits Elise in pursuit of his paper plane help her to overcome her anxieties and make her life less drab? (Yes.)
New Wave Clay: Ceramic design, art and architecture by Tom Morris      $65
The unprecedented surge in popularity of ceramics in the last five years has helped forge a new type of potter: the ceramic designer. Part-craftsman, part designer, they bridge ceramic craft, collectable design, and fine art. These ceramicists include product designers who use clay as a means of creative expression, and classically trained potters who create design-led pieces, in addition to interior decorators, illustrators, and graphic designers.
A Journey into the Phantasmagorical Garden of Apparatio Albinus by Claudio Romo         $55
Explore the flora and fauna and other wondrous phenomena of a miraculous garden filled with denizens as small as symbiotic insects, made up of both plant and animal life forms, and as large as a planet, Atanasius Uterinus, that contains a sun within its very core. Beautifully illustrated. 
>> Peep into the garden
Type Deck: 54 iconic typefaces curated by Steven Heller and Rick Landers      $28
A striking set of index cards surveying the history of type design. 
Auschwitz, A history by Sybille Steinbecker        $28
How Auschwitz was conceived, how it grew and mutated into an entire dreadful city, how both those who managed it and those who were killed by it came to be in Poland in the 1940s, and how all this was allowed to happen.
He is Mine and I Have No Other by Rebecca O'Connor            $33
In 1990s-small-town Ireland, amid the sweaty school discos and first fumblings of adolescence, fifteen-year-old Lani Devine falls in love with Leon Brady, whose mother is buried in the cemetery next to Lani's house. Lani is haunted by the stories of thirty-five orphaned girls, buried in an unmarked grave near Leon's mother. As the love story unfolds, and then unravels, it becomes clear that Leon too is haunted - by a brutal family tragedy that has left scars much more than skin-deep.
"A tender portrait of cider-drinking adolescence in all its rawness and sensitivity." - Irish Times

Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing         $28
Rausing looked on helplessly as her brother and his wife succumbed to drug addiction, leading to the death of her sister-in-law. Rausing delivers a remarkable portrait of a family coping with stress, trauma and grief, and asks searching questions about our society's inability to provide support. Rausing depicts addiction as lying somwhere between culpability and insanity. 
Great Expectations by Kathy Acker           $26
A new edition of Acker's 1983 punk riff on Dickens's classic. Fun.
We Begin Our Ascent by John Mungo Reed         $33
A lean novel intimating the pressures of competition in the Tour de France (and attendant doping) on a young couple's relationship and shared goals.
The Good Bohemian: The letters of Ida John edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd      $22
Ida Nettleship married the painter Augustus John and tolerated his relationship with style icon Dorothy "Dorelia" McNeill. Ida John's letters reveal much of life in the bohemian artistic set of the time.
Fascism: A warning by Madeleine Albright          $33
"A fascist is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." Relevant. 

Zami: A new spelling of my name (A biomythography) by Audre Lorde         $26
"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive." Lorde's memoir of growing up in 1930s Harlem, her early experiments in self-determination, and the formulation of her fierce yet poetic feminist and civil rights platforms. New edition. 
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag         $23
A young man's close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. An unsettling portrait of contemporary India. 
A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird         $18
Twelve-year-old Karim Aboudi and his family are trapped in their Ramallah home by a strict curfew. Israeli tanks control the city in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing. Karim longs to play football with his friends - being stuck inside with his teenage brother and fearful parents is driving him crazy. When the curfew ends, he and his friend discover an unused patch of ground that's the perfect site for a football pitch. What happens when he stays out too long?

The Wisdom of Trees by Max Adams        $23
A wander among the trees of the world, their history and mythology, with illustrations from John Evelyn's Sylva.

Vacationland: True stories from painful beaches by John Hodgman         $35
Disarmed of falsehood, he was left only with the awful truth. John Hodgman is an older white male monster with bad facial hair, wandering like a privileged Sasquatch through three wildernesses - the hills of Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; the painful beaches of Maine that want to kill him (and some day will); and the metaphoric haunted forest of middle age that connects them.

Evolution for Babies by Chris Ferrie and Cara Florance       $19
The best and clearest primer for evolutionary biology available as a board book. The Baby University motto: "It only takes a small spark to ignite a child's mind."

14/07/2018 07:34 PM

What have we been reading?
What books have arrived at VOLUME this week?
What have we got planned for National Poetry Day?
Find out in our latest NEWSLETTER.

14/07/2018 07:18 PM

Petite Fleur by Iosi Havilio  {Reviewed by STELLA}
When José’s job goes up in flames, literally, at the fireworks factory, he is at a loss. In a funk, he suddenly finds himself without purpose or motivation. His wife Laura suggests that she goes back to work at the publishing company and leave him to care for their young daughter and home. At first, José feels undermined by his new status, but he quickly falls into the swing of his new role as a domestic star - setting himself cleaning goals and garden projects. As he flourishes, Laura, forced into a more minor role at the publishing company, becomes increasingly embittered and trapped in her job, and this is only further aggravated by Antonia’s increasing rejection of her mother as their daughter gravitates towards José as the primary caregiver. One of the garden projects requires a spade, something that the couple do not possess. One evening, invigorated by his new passions, José knocks on Guillermo’s (the neighbour's) door to borrow a spade. Invited in, a friendship strikes up between the two, and they start to spend Thursday evenings together, drinking and listening to jazz. Guillermo is a jazz obsessive and, as the evening goes on and the drinks go down, he becomes excitable and increasingly animated until José draws the night to a close, often abruptly, with his new found ‘talent’ - a talent so utterly surprising to the reader the first time it happens you will wonder what you have stepped into. Iosi Havilio’s Petite Fleur (named for a jazz piece which is Guillermo’s favourite - he has 125 different recordings) is a lively, macabre and sharply witty portrayal of domestic suburbia, both its bliss and its terrible suffocation. José is a study in paranoia, perfection and obsession - along with odd lapses into clumsiness and childish impulses. As a reader, you will wonder how reliable our narrator is. His clichéd love of Russian literature (Tolstoy), his unwise erotic fantasies and his seeming unconcern for others make José an intriguing character - one whom you want to follow, even when he is repellent. His talent, violent and guiltless, will leave you reeling beyond the last sentence.  

14/07/2018 07:17 PM

Playthings by Alex Pheby  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Freud’s consideration of the case of the judge Paul Schreber, and his book Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903) was instrumental in the formulation of the modern construct of paranoid schizophrenia, and Schreber’s experience, treatment and interpretation have been rigorously exploredand debated by Deleuze, Guatarri, Canetti, Lacan, Calasso and others. Playthings, a novel by Alex Pheby, depicts, sometimes horrifically, sometimes with humour or beauty, sometimes ironically, Schreber’s descent into and experience of madness: his inability to achieve the culturally determined overarching perspective that enables us to function without being overwhelmed by minor details, observations and experiences (of course, none of us do this especially well; our ability to ‘function’ determines which side of the line of ‘madness’ we exist on); his inability to integrate his experiences into ‘useful’ concepts of time and causality; his inability to see others as persons or to interpret their intentions and actions in ways that fit with shared concepts of the patterns of intentions and actions; and his projection of suppressed psychological material onto such others (this dehumanisation of those seen as ‘other’ is a manifestation of the mechanisms by which socially inter-confirmed mass paranoia presented itself as fascism in Germany a few decades later). “It was nothing to him, because they were all nothing. Fleeting-improvised-wretched-plaything-human-beings. Puppets, soul-less automata, clicking and whirring and chirruping to each other on a flat street of false houses and dust blown by the perishing cold wind.” As Pheby zooms in and away from Schreber’s experience, playing always with the perspective that lies at the core of his illness, leaving us uncertain which side of the line between madness and sanity we are experiencing or what constitutes ‘reality’, we as readers become aware of ourselves as the author’s plaything. The key mechanisms of schizophrenia are the key mechanisms of literature; it is only our ability to close the book that keeps us sane.

>>Pheby's new novel, Lucia, treating the erasures and lacunae in the story of James Joyce's daughter Lucia, who was confined to an asylum for the last thirty years of her life, has just arrived at VOLUME. I am looking forward to reading this.