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04/21/2018 01:12 AM



Our Book of the Week this week is New Zealand's answer to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. GO GIRL: A STORYBOOK OF EPIC N.Z. WOMEN, written by Barbara Else and illustrated by Sarah Laing, Sarah Wilkins, Fifi Coulston, Ali Teo, Helen Taylor, Phoebe Morris, Sophie Watkins, Rebecca ter Borg and Vasanti Unka, is full of inspiring stories and wonderful illustrations. It includes Whina Cooper, Janet Frame, Beatrice Tinsley, Frances Hodgkins, Georgina Beyer, Huria Matenga, Jane Campion, Joan Wiffen, Karen Walker, Kate Edger, Katherine Mansfield, Mai Chen, Merata Mita, Mojo Mathers, Patricia Grace, Suzie Moncrieff, Farah Palmer, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Lucy Lawless, Kate Sheppard, Nancy Wake, Sophie Pascoe, Margaret Mahy, Lydia Ko, Merata Mita, Lorde, Rita Angus and Te Puea Herangi.

>> Barbara Else on why Go Girl needed to be written.

>> The problem with Hairy Maclary

>> We'll be posting a woman each day on our instagram page

>> See also: 
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Literary Witches ; 
Brazen: Rebel ladies who rocked the world
I Know a Woman: The inspiring connections between the women who have shaped our world ; 
Bygone Badass Broads
The Periodic Table of Feminism
Rad Women Worldwide
I Am a Wonder Woman
Three Cheers for Women! ;
A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing stories of women in space ;
Power in Numbers: The rebel women of mathematics
Women in Sports: 50 fearless athletes who played to win ;
Because I Was a Girl
Herstory: 50 women and girls who shook the world ;
Visible: 60 women at 60 ;
200 Women
And, of course, Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different


04/14/2018 05:59 AM



Wanted: The search for the Modernist murals of E. Mervyn Taylor is our Book of the Week this week at VOLUME. Edited by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and published by Massey University Press, the book shows that New Zealand artist E. Mervyn Taylor was not only an internationally influential wood engraver. During the burgeoning of New Zealand cultural nationalism of the 1960s, he also produced a dozen murals for government and civic buildings. Some were later destroyed or covered over. This book records the recovery of a distinctive artistic legacy. 


>> The great mural hunt

>> Pictorial parade (1962): "Hutt Science, Patrons of the arts".

>> The restoration of 'Te Ika-a-Akoranga'. 

>> A list of the murals, some of which had been boarded over before rediscovery.

>> Some wood engravings in the Auckland Art Gallery

>> A brief biography (Te Ara). 


04/07/2018 10:18 AM



Our Book of the Week this week is Jesse Ball's intelligent and beautifully written new novel Census (published by Text). In Census, when a widowed doctor, who cares for his adult son who has Down Syndrome, learns that he hasn't long to live, he takes a job as a census taker for a mysterious government agency and takes to the road with his son. 

>> Read Stella's review

>> Hear Stella review the book (without singing) on Radio NZ National (podcast).

>> Read an extract

>> Pursuing an abstract form of writing

>> Ball talks about writing the book

>>...and about walking around with his dog

>> Ball talks about how his relationship with his brother, who had Down Syndrome, led him to write this book

>> The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association

>> Other books by Jesse Ball at VOLUME



03/31/2018 10:51 AM



In Ariana Harwicz's sensitive and brutal novel Die, My Love, a woman finds herself incapable of feeling anything other than displaced in every aspect of her life, both trapped by and excluded from the circumstances that have come to define her. This beautifully written, uncompromising book is this week's Book of the Week at VOLUME. 

>> Read Thomas's review

>> Read an excerpt

>> An actor reads an extract

>> Ariana Harwicz and her publisher Carolina Orloff in conversation at our shop in Paris

>> The author reads an extract in Spanish

>> What is it like to be listed for the Man Booker International Prize? 

>> Visit the website of Charco Press. The tiny Edinburgh-based press is run by two people (a New Zealander and an Argentinian) and is dedicated to publishing translations of contemporary Latin American literature. 

>> Have a look at the other books published by Charco Press

>> Read our reviews of other books were shortlisted for the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize

>> Find out which other books have been long-listed for this year's Man Booker International Prize

>> Follow the white rabbit. 























03/24/2018 12:09 AM


Tōtara: A natural and cultural history by Philip Simpson is our Book of the Week this week at VOLUME. As well as profiling the tree and its habits, the well-illustrated book explores its significance to Maori and to settlers, and its plight in the modern era.

>> Simpson (who lives in Golden Bay) shares his love of tōtara.

>> An interview with Philip Simpson

>> Tōtara are easy to grow (hint).

>> Threats to totara

>> Totara for the future

>> The book has been short-listed in the Illustrated Non-Fiction section of the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards



03/17/2018 12:10 PM


Our Book of the Week this week is Noémi Lefebvre's astounding novel Blue Self-Portraita single virtuoso looping interior monologue of a narrator caught up in regrets about her social failings and ambivalent impulses.

>> Read Thomas's review

>> Read an extract

>> Hear an extract read

>> The book is short-listed for the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize

>> A review by Eimear McBride in The Guardian

>> "An intelligent woman is supposed to raise herself above these anxieties." 

>> Arnold Schoenberg's Blue Self-Portrait

>> The book is published by the exemplary Les Fugitives, a press that  publishes only books written by award-winning, female, francophone writers who have previously not been translated into English. Visit their website

>> Other titles from Les Fugitives at VOLUME:
Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger (read Thomas's review)
Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi (read Thomas's review)
Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (just arrived!)




03/11/2018 11:18 PM



50 writers and artists (Lydia Davis, Sarah Vowell, Sarah Manguso, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Diane Williams, Jesse Ball, Sheila Heti, Carrie Brownstein, Etgar Keret, Jonathan Lehtam, Valeira Luiselli, Heidi Julavits, Sherman Alexie, &c, &c, &c, &c, &c, &c) have contributed to this week's Book of the Week, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #50the bumper 50th issue of one of the most interesting outlets of good writing from America.  

>> Read Stella's review.      

>> Enjoy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.  

>> A fuller list of contributors


03/03/2018 10:09 AM


Book of the Week: If Apples Had Teeth by Milton and Shirley Glaser
If apples had teeth, they would bite back. If trees were pink, they would be nevergreens. This silly, inventive picture book illustrated by the outstanding graphic designer of the protopsychedelic era will make your brain turn somersaults. Each page presents a counterfactual situation, encouraging children to speculate about their world in a playful way. Art, poetry and meaning are all profitably generated from nonsense, and a creative life can be achieved by learning to look at the familiar in fresh ways. A facsimile of the original 1960 edition, the book is exquisitely produced and printed (on just the right paper stock!), and is the perfect addition to the shelf of either an imaginative child or anyone interested in period design. Sometimes the counterfactual is counter-counterfactual (how liberating!): If a zebra wore striped pajamas, you would never know. {T}

>> Also in stock (and new): Posters by Milton Glaser. From the early psychedelic work to recent production, with Glaser's own commentary, this book marks half a century at the forefront of graphic design. 

>> Visit Glaser's studio

>> To inform and delight

>> Milton Glaser's website

>> "Great design makes ideas new."



02/24/2018 07:19 AM



Is it preferable to love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? Our Book of the Week this week is The Only Story by Julian Barnes. 

>> Read Stella's review


>> "Time, love and the slippery nature of memory."

>> Julian Barnes on the art of fiction

>> Julian chats with Clive


>> "Barnes writes with such shattering emotional acuity."

>> Thoughtful answers to interesting questions from Spanish students

>> The author's website

>> Mixed doubles, a long tradition

>> Julian Barnes at VOLUME






02/17/2018 08:24 AM


Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor is this week's Book of the Week at VOLUME. This sparely written novel is a sort of infinitely dissipated thriller in which the flow of time in a rural village eventually suffocates the mystery and in which the forensic description of everyday life and the rhythms of nature in a small community in which a crime may have been committed becomes almost more terrifying than the possible crime itself.  

>> Read Thomas's review (below).

>> The author reads an extract and you listen

>> "It's a book about time. It's a book about detail.

>> "Visionary power." - James Wood

>> "Why is it always a girl who is missing?"

>> Reservoir 13 won the 2017 Costa Novel Award

>> "McGregor has revolutionised the most hallowed of mystery plots.

>> Also read McGregor's The Reservoir Tapes: 15 back-stories of characters in Reservoir 13



THOMAS'S REVIEW: 





































Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
There are thirteen reservoirs in the moors above the village in central England near which a thirteen-year-old girl disappears, reservoirs that must be continually monitored and repaired if they are to continue their function and withstand the effects of time. The girl separates from her parents and disappears. Reservoir 13 seems at first as if it might be going to be a sort of thriller, but if it is a thriller it is an infinitely dissipated thriller, a thriller infinitely slowed (the book is thirteen years long without any resolution for the fate of the missing girl). The mode of expectation built in the reader, however, cannot be discharged, the suspense of a thriller is not lessened but transposed, heightening our awareness of every detail of this novel, this archive of the minutiae of human behaviour and of the natural world, this essay in the great, awful equivalence of all things, in which each breakfast, the behaviour of each bird is freighted with significance, but not with the sort of significance from which plot is usually built. Not only is this book a thriller that overturns the expectations of a thriller while still achieving the effects upon the reader of a thriller, it is a novel that overturns the expectations of a novel (plot, protagonists, ‘viewpoint’, shape, interiority, &c) while achieving the effects upon the reader of a novel. Written scrupulously in the flat, detached, austere tone of reportage, infinitely patient but with implacable momentum, a slow mill grinding detail out of circumstance, a forensic dossier on English rurality, the novel is comprised of detail after detail of the human, animal and vegetative life in a small rural community over thirteen years. The narrative, so to call it, shifts, within paragraphs, from subject to subject, or, rather, from object to object (there is an ambiguity of agency to the term ‘subject’), the persons, the nature, the seasons all particles borne on and changed by the awful impersonal force of time. McGregor’s swift, precise sentences heighten our awareness and make every detail, every observation first beautiful and then, cumulatively, horrific, with the horror of time passing, of the great destructive central force of nature that is time. Time suffocates the mystery of the girl’s disappearance, and, in McGregor’s forensic description, everyday life and the rhythms of nature of a community in which a crime may have been committed become more terrifying than the possible crime itself, whatever it may have been. Each detail is indeed a clue, but not a clue towards the solution of a crime so much as a clue towards understanding the kind of world in which this crime, whatever it was, if a crime was committed, a crime against a young woman, even a child, could be committed, and in which such a crime seems to have no real consequences. The crime may be submerged beneath the accretion of quotidian concerns but the increasingly panic-inducing alertness for clues spreads out upon the whole countryside and the whole community, infecting them with suspicion, even culpability for unspecified and even indefinable crimes, for guilt is not predicated upon crime. McGregor writes with terrible understatement, cumulatively insinuating suspicion and distaste upon his characters. We are first drawn in, then repelled, then detached. As detail is heaped upon detail, as the narrative focus becomes more and more diffuse, as each season is repeated, as the characters move closer to and further away from each other, as agency is grasped at and relinquished, as time deprives them of their situations and capacities, as the tone of the novel becomes flatter, if possible, as the events, such as they are, become less and less interesting, largely through repetition, certainly less and less consequential, the reader is not bored, as might be expected, but more and more fascinated and appalled, caught in the awful forward, or, worse, circular motion, not wanting to miss a word, a sentence, a clue to what becomes an existential crime. The guilt for every disappearance, for all harm, for all loss, for each act done or not done, lies with time. Everything will be erased. Everything will be lost, but, even worse, everything will continue. 


02/10/2018 10:00 AM



“We wanted the strangers to be comfortable. We wanted them to be more like us, and to be more responsive to our own willing faces. We wanted them to be available." When two strangers arrive in a rural town, refugees from a disaster they cannot name, why do they end up locked in a cage and dehumanised by the townsfolk? 
This week's BOOK OF THE WEEK is Lloyd Jones's new novel The Cage

>> Read Thomas's review

>> Jones discusses the book with Gregory O'Brien

>> Radio from across the ditch

>> Some book club notes!

>> If you're in Wellington on Tuesday 13th, go to the launch at Unity Books. 

>> Jones wrote this book in anger over the ill-treatment and passivity Jones observed directed by ordinary citizens towards Syrian refugees in Hungary. Here are some other books at VOLUME dealing with the refugee crisis: 

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (reviewed by Stella)

Charges by Elfreide Jelinek (reviewed by Thomas)

Mediterranean by Armin Greder (a powerful wordless picture book)


Violent Borders: Refugees and the right to move by Reece Jones


Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours by Slavoj Žižek


I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See by Giles Duley


Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah


Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier


The New Odyssey: A history of Europe's refugee crisis by Patrick Kingsley


Crossing the Sea: With the Syrians on the exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer


The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon


Illegal by Eion Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano


The Right to Have Rights by Alastair Hunt, Stephanie DeGooyer, Werner Hamacher, Samuel Moyn and Astra Taylor 

The Quiet War on Asylum by Tracey Barnett





02/03/2018 10:01 AM



Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding. Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard. And now there's a spirit inside her. The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. And now England is on the brink of Civil War. 
Our BOOK OF THE WEEK this week is A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. 

>> Read Stella's review

>> Visit the author's website

>> Rachel Vale on designing the cover of A Skinful of Shadows

>> How to paint your nails to match the book

>> Meet Frances Hardinge

>> Galloping Imposter Syndrome: on winning the Costa for The Lie Tree

>> Books by Frances Hardinge at VOLUME.

01/27/2018 09:06 AM



This week's Book of the Week is Go Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck's subtle and insightful novel exploring the ways in which a retired academic is changed by learning more about the refugees who have arrived in his city. 

>> Read Stella's review


>> "A powerful response to the refugee crisis."


>> "What happens when you're only seen [i.e.seen only] as a refugee?"


>> A quarterly interview.

>> At the Library of Congress.

>> Other Jenny Erpenbooks at VOLUME

A few other books on the refugee crisis:


Charges by Elfreide Jelinek (reviewed by Thomas)


Mediterranean by Armin Greder (a powerful wordless picture book)


Violent Borders: Refugees and the right to move by Reece Jones


Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours by Slavoj Žižek


I Can Only Tell You What My Eyes See by Giles Duley


Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah


Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier


The New Odyssey: A history of Europe's refugee crisis by Patrick Kingsley


Crossing the Sea: With the Syrians on the exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer


The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon


Illegal by Eion Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano


The Right to Have Rights by Alastair Hunt, Stephanie DeGooyer, Werner Hamacher, Samuel Moyn and Astra Taylor 







01/20/2018 07:45 AM



This week's Book of the Week might help you understand what is wrong with the world, and possibly even help you think of ways in which it could be better. Yanis Varoufakis, author of Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, A brief history of capitalism, was the Greek Finance Minister who led negotiations with Greece's creditors (chiefly the IMF and the German-dominated Eurogroup) and decided to stand down rather than continue in a compromised position against their intransigence. He is currently Professor of Economics at the University of Athens. This book was written to answer his fourteen-year-old daughter's question, "Why is there so much inequality?"

>> Varoufakis is a co-founder of the Democracy in Europe (DiEM25) movement

>> Varoufakis is a tireless speaker and campaigner for a more equal society

>> Varoufakis and his daughter Xenia

>> A potted history of Varoufakis and the Syriza government

>> "Capitalism is ending because it has made itself obsolete."

>> On Brexit, the rise of nationalism, and other ills

>> "Capitalism will eat democracy."


01/13/2018 09:36 AM



The stories in László Krasnahorkai's The World Goes On, this week's Book of the Week at VOLUME, convey the simultaneous striving and resignation of lives lived as a sort of ongoing eventless apocalypse (so to call it).

>> Read Thomas's Review.


>> "The narrators in The World Goes On find themselves wandering in a world of forgotten revelations and corrupted messages, blindly groping toward ineffable essences that forever remain out of reach."


>> "This collection – a masterpiece of invention, utterly different from everything else – is hugely unsettling and affecting: to meet Krasznahorkai’s characters, to read his breathless, twisting sentences, is to feel altered."

>> "It's as though there's a black hole hiding behind the pages."

>> Read a sample story, 'Downhill on a Forest Road'.


>> Read another, 'Chasing Waterfalls'. 

>> Krasznahorkai was awarded the 2015 Man Booker International Prize

>> What are the advantages, disadvantages and dangers of translation?

>> "Reality examined to the point of madness." 

>> Between theatre and reality (recommended interview).

>> Krasznahorkai's novel Satantango was made into a 7-hour film by Hungarian master Bela Tarr. Tarr and Krasznahorkai have worked together on a number of occasions. 

>> The whale scene from The Melancholy of Resistance (filmed as The Werckmeister Harmonies by Bela Tarr) is revisited in one of the stories in The World Goes On

>> "The deepest loss is the loss of a culture of poverty. Nowadays we only have people who don't have money, but everyone has the same dream." 

>> The author's website

>> FaceBook, even

>> Is avoiding madness like avoiding a heart attack? 


>> "The sublimely startled appearance of a corpse reanimated with electric shocks." Warning: content may disturb. 

>> Krasznahorkai at VOLUME



01/06/2018 08:50 AM



Our Book of the Week this week is Jennifer Egan's elegant and insightful new novel Manhattan Beach

>> Read Stella's review

>> “Writing entirely outside of my lifetime was extremely challenging." 

>> "I wanted to write a book that addressed the issue of female power."

>> Lit Up

>> Egan chats with Claire Messud. 

>> Manhattan Beach considered in the Los Angeles Review of Books

>> Egan's website

>> Jennifer Egan at VOLUME


12/30/2017 08:38 AM



Our Book of the Week this week is Gavin Bishop's hugely impressive pictorial history Aotearoa: The New Zealand story. Spanning our history from the Big Bang until tomorrow, this is a book that should be on every bookcase (whether there are children in the house or not). 

>> Bishop at The Sapling (includes page spreads).

>> Visit Gavin's website

>> RNZ interview with Gavin Bishop

>> Bishop's The House that Jack Built also tells a New Zealand story. 






12/16/2017 12:44 PM



Our Book of the Week this week is an outstanding piece of New Zealand social and artistic history, beautifully illustrated: Strangers arrive: Émigrés and the arts in New Zealand, 1930-1980 by Leonard Bell (published by Auckland University Press)From the 1930s to the 1950s, forced migrants - refugees from Nazism, displaced people after World War II and escapees from Communist countries - arrived in New Zealand from Europe. Among them were extraordinary artists and writers, photographers, designers and architects whose European Modernism radically reshaped the arts in this country. How were migrants received by New Zealanders? How did displacement and settlement in New Zealand transform their work? How did the arrival of European Modernists intersect with the burgeoning nationalist movement in the arts in New Zealand? This book introduces us to a group of `aliens' who were critical catalysts for change in New Zealand culture. 


>> Leonard Bell on Radio NZ National

>> Was this a lonely exile? (Sally Blundel in the NZ Listener)

>> Some sample pages

>> Click and collect from VOLUME.

“New Zealand is neither a country nor a culture, it’s a branch of the Salvation Army.” - Theo Schoon






12/09/2017 09:17 AM



This week's Book of the Week can be read safely only in a foil-lined room. 
Like everyone, Megan Dunn had a book inside her. In Dunn's case, that book happened to be Fahrenheit 451, which had already been written by Ray Bradbury. Tinderbox is about the hold of literature on our minds and about the mechanisms by which society attempts to destroy that hold. It is about hope and failure and retail and living in the twenty-first century and failure (it's strong on failure), and it's fun to read. 

>> Read Thomas's review below. 

>> Read an extract

>> Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.


>> The 1966 film by Francis Truffaut

>> - Why do you write? - I don't smoke

>> "Is it a quirky book?" Harry: "I would say it's a very quirky book."

>> Megan's booklaunch speech


>> Megan's Julie Christie slide show

>> Megan Dunn's blog.

>> Some films by Megan Dunn

>> The Galley Beggar Press website

>> Megan Dunn loves merchandise

>> A brief biography of the author, former bookseller and former dynamo of Booksellers NZ.

>> And she's written for The Pantographic Punch

>> And an interview with Ray Bradbury about Megan's book (just joking). 














































Tinderbox by Megan Dunn   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
If there had been any rain he would have opened his mouth and tasted the drops but it wasn’t raining and it hadn’t rained for some time. The vegetation everywhere was dry, what they call tinder dry because to be useful tinder needs to be dry, suggesting that dryness is a requisite quality of tinder, though what then to call it when it is wet, he wondered, wandering from the task at hand. It would take only a spark struck from a flint, he thought, trying to climb back aboard his earlier train of thought, to set the whole thing off. But even this wasn’t the thought he had started with. He had been thinking of tasting the raindrops, a sort of conceit for opening a review of the book Tinderbox by Megan Dunn, the raindrops, or rather the tasting of them, an awkward motif isolated by Dunn from the book Fahrenheit 451 and Truffaut's film based on the book upon which her book is based. What was he thinking? Perhaps he would write a story in which a character, call that character Miss Ingram for reasons outlined in Tinderbox, he won’t go into that now, writes, or attempts to write and fails, due to fatigue perhaps, or insufficient time or focus, or perhaps brain-power, a review of Tinderbox by Megan Dunn, which is an account of Dunn trying, and failing, for reasons other than those just listed, to write a novel based on the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, in one iteration a novel of Fahrenheit 451 from the point of view of its female characters, which iteration, when completed, made the Bradbury estate uncomfortable, in a legal sense, leading directly to the non-publication of this iteration and thence to the writing and subsequent publication of Tinderbox, a book about someone writing a book about a book, or, more often, a book about someone writing a book about a film about a book, or about the Spark Notes about that book, or, sometimes, about the actors who play the characters in the film of the book, in other words a metametametametametanovel, but so much fun, with each wheel within the other wheels turning and picking up, in its treads, if that’s the right extension of the metaphor, who wants it, all sorts of stuff in the life of the author-character, the putative Megan Dunn, the outer wheel, so to call it, or the outer wheel at least until the story about the pseudonymous Miss Ingram, or, indeed, the account of the writing of the story about Miss Ingram, who tries and fails to write a review of the book about the putative Megan Dunn, which includes Dunn’s employment as a bookseller in the failing Borders chain, the evanescence of a relationship, her writing of a book based on Fahrenheit 451, the failure to bring this book to readers, the writing of a novel on the NaNoWriMo scheme, a sort of reverse Alcoholics Anonymous programme for writers, and Tinderbox itself, the book about all this, and all that mentioned above, and other things, such as merchandising, that you will need to read the book to find out about, each part or layer or vector or whatever contaminating the others and yet handled so deftly by Dunn, with equal measure of attachment and detachment, to build a subtle depiction of the mutable but enduring force of literature in individual and collective lives and of the forces arrayed against it, not least of them failure, the book is strong on failure, and what could be more compassionate, even to Miss Ingram, who has failed to establish herself as a character in someone's story about failing to write a review of Tinderbox, not that the fault is hers, perhaps that conceit should be abandoned, than treating to failure in all its guises and agencies, failure being an essential quality of anything worth doing. Could writing about failure ever be anything but a success? Dunn knows what temperature books burn at. Half price. Such weighty matters should always be this lightly held. 

 



12/02/2017 08:02 AM


Our Book of the Week this week is Mr Lear: A life of art and nonsense by Jenny Uglow         
A man of deep ambivalences, contradictions and vulnerabilities, Edward Lear was unable to act on his deepest feelings but produced some of the oddest poetry of his time, as well as a body of art both serious and comic. Jenny Uglow, who could almost be said to specialise in biographies of odd characters who both exemplify and stand apart from their times, is Lear's perfect biographer, forensic yet sensitive to the most hidden corners of his psyche, his playfulness and his melancholy. 
"Jenny Uglow has written a great life about an artist with half a life, a biography that might break your heart." - Robert McCrum, Guardian

>> David Attenborough examines some of Lear's ornithological art

>> Some limericks written and illustrated by Lear.

>> The fine line between joy and melancholy

>> An Exile in Paradise

>> Lear's works have inspired many other illustrators

>> Uglow has written a string of exemplary biographies and histories



11/25/2017 11:30 AM



Gordon Walters: New Vision is this week's stunning Book of the Week. Best known for his positive/negative koru stacks, Walters, as this book demonstrates, was a remarkably diverse and accomplished abstract artist. 
The book, and the exhibition it accompanies, are curated by  Lucy Hammonds, Julia Waite and Laurence Simmons. There are essays by these curators, and by Deidre Brown, Peter Brunt, Rex Butler, A.D.S. Donaldson, Luke Smythe and Thomas Crow. Walters is considered as a modernist innovator straddling New Zealand and transnational concerns, and opening a pathway between his influences and the artists that came after him. He is notable for his adoption of precedents and motifs from traditional and contemporary Maori art. 

>> "The most important dialogue in the last century of New Zealand art, if not the only important one."

>> Curators on the radio

>> The exhibition shows first at the Auckland Art Gallery and then at the Dunedin Art Gallery

>> A press release

>> Walters in Art New Zealand

>> The book has just been long-listed for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

>> We'll be posting images from the book in our instagram gallery every day this week. 


11/18/2017 06:47 AM





This week's Book of the Week is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.
This fascinating (and funny) new novel from the author of The Wish Child (winner of the 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize) is sieved and assembled from the great flood of words that washed over Chidgey in 2016. Both an experiment in form and an exercise in documentary rigour, this novel is revelatory of the actual texture of life and an interrogation of the processes of memory. 


{"Review" by THOMAS}:


What are you looking at?
Nothing. I’m not looking at anything.
Up there in the corner?
No, I’m concentrating. Trying to.
What on?
I’m writing a review of the new Catherine Chidgey book.
You’re writing a review on a Wednesday? But the deadline’s Saturday. You’ve never written reviews before Saturday before. I like the cover.
It’s by Fiona Pardington. The photograph.
What is it?
A moth’s wing, or a butterfly’s. It’s probably some reference to Nabokov. He was a lepidopterist. I don’t know what, though. Nabokov not being a writer I particularly appreciate.
Why is it called The Beat of the Pendulum?
That’s a reference to Proust. Something he wrote about writing novels. It’s in the epigraph. The writer as the manipulator of the reader’s experience of time. The writer as able to make the reader experience time as such, by speeding it up. Or by slowing it down, I suppose. Proust might be mistaken on this, though.
What?
I am interested in the differential of the reader’s and the characters’ experience of time. The writer’s inclusion or exclusion of detail controls the reader’s awareness and makes the book move at a varying pace, that’s what detail is for, slowing down, speeding up, leaping over swathes of time that would have been experienced by the characters, if they weren’t fictional, a kind of hypothetical time, so to call it, but inaccessible to the reader because those moments are one step deeper into fiction than the text reaches.
Sounds more like a concertina than a pendulum.
Yes. The book should be called The Squeeze of the Concertina. I’m not sure readers are necessarily aware, consciously, of the difference between text time and narrative time, notwithstanding Proust, though they might well be.
What has this got to do with the book? It’s just a transcript of all the conversations the author overheard or that she was involved in. Is it even a novel?
Just? Have you read this book?
No. But [N.] read it. Or read some of it. Or a review. Or talked to someone who had read it.
Or some of it. Or a review.
Yes.
And said?
That it was self-indulgent.
I don’t agree with that. At least, it is less self-indulgent than most novels. I mean, what kind of person, other than a novelist, would be so presumptuous as to expect others to spend hours of their time witnessing their make-believe?
But people like doing that.
That’s beside the point.
And the point is?
The point is that this book turns the tables on the author, subjects her to the very kinds of scrutiny that most novels are constructed to deflect, if I can damn all writers with one blow, or at least the kinds of writers that write the kind of make-believe that the ‘people’ you referred to earlier like to indulge in.
There are other kinds?
So in a way this novel is a kind of literary gutting inflicted upon the author by the rigours of the constraint she has chosen, Knausgaard without the interiority.
It’s like Knausgaard?
No. It’s more a kind of extension of the Nouveau roman project outlined by Robbe-Grillet: a turning-away from the tired novelistic props of plot, character, meaning, a verbal ‘inner life’, inside-out, and all that.
Robbe-Grillet wanted a novel made only of objects, surfaces, objective description. This book doesn’t have any of those.
Hmm. Yes. This book has cast off all those. It’s even more rigorous. There are only words, spoken by people about whom we know nothing but what the words tell us, or imply. We are immersed in language, it is our medium, or the medium of one strand of our consciousness. Our sensory awareness and our verbal awareness are very different things.
Are you giving a lecture here?
I suppose this book, by removing both the referents for language and the matrix of interpretation, or context, the conceptual plinths that weigh down novels, is testing to what extent speech is any good at conveying anything by itself.
Conceptual plinths?
There aren’t any. The book reminds me, a little, of Nathalie Sarraute, The Planetarium perhaps, where the novel is comprised only of voices. In this book the reader does the same sort of work to ‘build’ the novel around the words.
Is that fun?
Fun? Well, actually, yes, this book is very enjoyable to read. I thought I would read a bit, get the idea, and then take some pretty large running stitches through it, so to speak, but, even though nothing much happens in the way of plot, it is just an ordinary life, after all, the book is hugely enjoyable, and frequently very funny, you want to read every bit, because it so perfectly captures the way people say things, the way thought and language stutter on through time. The book is takes place entirely in the present moment, a present moment regulated by language. By the beat of the sentence. What is said is unimportant. Relatively unimportant.
It doesn’t matter what happens?
Why should anyone care about that? Apart from the characters, so to call them.
She spent a year spying on people and writing down whatever they said, whether she was in the conversation, probably quite private conversations, or things she overheard people saying? How could she do that?
How could she not do that? A novelist is always spying on other people, not to overhear what people say but how they say it, not to find out information but to find out how people approach or are affected by or transfer information.
You don’t think a novelist is predatory of plot, then? Or scavenging for plot?
You can’t hear or see plot. There’s no such thing, objectively. So I suppose you can’t steal one, only impose one. The realist novel, or the so-called realist novel, as a form, makes the most outrageous of its fantasies, its fallacies, in the area of plot. I think that’s unjustified.
But people like plot.
Yes.
Yes, I suppose plot has little to do with objective reality.
So to call it. Yes. In fact, coming back to what you said before about objectivity. Dialogue is the only objective form of writing. Description is prone to error, to the interposition of the viewer to the viewed, and no-one would pretend that interiority was anything but an unreliable guide to the actual…
No-one as in not even you?
…which is its richness, I suppose. But no-one would dispute the saying of what is said.
No-one as in not even you?
Verbatim is actuality, or, I mean, resembles actuality, at least structurally. Verbatim creates an indubitable immediacy for the reader, which is very seductive, and clocks time against speech.
Why write conversation?
Conversation is propulsion. It is rocket fuel for a stuck writer, for any writer. It gets the writer out of the way of the text and lets the characters take responsibility for its progression. Conversation gives at least the illusion of objectivity. Conversation draws the reader into the illusion of ‘real time’.
Even if it’s not.
No. Irrelevant, though.
But this novel, The Beat of the Pendulum, purports to be a record of things actually said, in the real world.
Yes, I believe it.
How is that a novel?
All novels are a kind of edited actuality, some more swingeingly edited than others. Otherwise they wouldn’t be believable.
She’s edited this?
Well, obviously there’s been some sort of selecting process going on, some choosing. A year’s worth of “I’m putting on some washing. Is there anything you want to add to the load”/”There are some socks on the floor in the bedroom, if you wouldn’t mind.” might get a bit tedious.
But is not out of keeping with the project.
Well, no. I suppose not. But then it wouldn’t be a novel. Literature is potentised by exclusion rather than by inclusion. What makes this book a novel is the rigour of its form. It is an experiment in form. A laboratory experiment, if you like.
Is Chidgey a literary pioneer?
I can see The Beat of the Pendulum shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize.
You said this book is funny. I don’t remember The Wish Child being funny. Where does the humour come from?
Scientific rigour is indistinguishable from humour.
The world is a relentless funfair?
If you look at it dispassionately. And a relentless tragedy. There are some very memorable and enjoyable passages, revelatory I would call some of them.
Such as?
There is a long passage, maybe a dozen pages, which just records the sales pitch of a sales assistant showing Catherine and her husband a carpet shampooing machine. The use, or misuse, of language is just so well observed, it’s hilarious and tragic. Likewise the patter used by Fiona Pardington when taking Chidgey’s portrait, or there’s the compound pretension and insecurity of the conversations in the creative writing classes Chidgey tutors, or the attempt to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to an inattentive child. Humour often comes from the simultaneous impact of multiple contexts upon language.
I thought humour comes from noticing the world as it actually is. That’s why humour is often cruel.
Or all the medical appointments, or the woman overheard in a waiting room talking about her jewellery. “I’m a silver person but my three daughters are gold people,” or something like that. Chidgey reveals the distortions, the structural flaws and inconsistent texture of the verbal topographies we wander through.
Hark at him.
And the way words act as hooks or burrs that accrete details to entities in ways sufficiently idiosyncratic to make them specific.
So you get to know the characters in this book? Even though nobody’s named.
No, not really. At least, not closely. Surprisingly, perhaps. But then an overdefined personality, or ‘character’ is a definite flaw that fiction, even - sometimes - good fiction, but certainly - always - bad fiction, is prone to fall into. What we call identity is really just a grab-bag or accretion of impressions and tendencies, and multiple voices, including incompatible impressions and contradictory tendencies and conflicting voices. We are much less ourselves than we pretend we are.
Speak for yourself.
Attachment to what we, for convenience, call persons, is something imposed upon actuality and is not something inherent in it. Chidgey’s book is not involving in the way we sometimes expect novels to be involving, there’s no story, or any of those other appurtenances, but there is both a fascination and a shared poignancy that comes with this cumulative evidence of the feeling that actual life is slipping away, with each beat of the pendulum, its loss measured out in words.
Each squeeze of the concertina.
The moments whose residue is on these pages will never return. The words both immortalise them and mark their evanescence. It’s both an anxiety and a release from anxiety.
So our anxiety about our vulnerability magnifies our vulnerability?
That’s a fairly accurate observation. That’s what we use words for.
Ha. The book is arranged on a day-by-day basis through the year.
Yes.
You’re supposed to read only what’s on today’s date, then, for a year.
Haha. That would be a bit religious. Yes, you could.
That would be an experiment in reading.
It’s been done.
But not in a novel.
I don’t know.
What are you doing?
I’m putting my computer away.
You’re not going to write the review?
All this talking has used up the time I was going to write it in.
You can always write it on Saturday. Deadline day.
I suppose. I was hoping to at least make a start.
Sorry.
Don’t say that.
Sorry.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, our situation, two fictional characters engaged in a fictional conversation about an objective novel comprising only actual, ‘real-life’, material.
What are you saying?
We’re both fictional, authorial conceits if you like. Mind you, you are rather more fictional than I am. Someone might mistake me for an actual person.
But you’re not?
Not on the evidence of our conversation.





LINKS:

>> Discussing the "found novel" on Radio NZ National


>> Cervical smears, surrogacy and dementia

>> A year found.


>> Chidgey and the passing of time


>> The cover of the book features a photograph by Fiona Pardington from her series 'Nabokov's Blues: The Charmed Circle'


>> Chidgey's five odd-eyed (heterochromic) white cats have their own FaceBook page (and they feature in the book (explaining our cat Lucy's presence in the picture above)).



11/11/2017 06:56 AM



This week's Book of the Week is Driving to Treblinka (published by Awa Press), Diana Wichtel's remarkable account of her search for her father, both within her own memories and in the parts of the world that made her father (and by extension herself) who he was (and by extension who she is). Wichtel's father survived the Warsaw ghetto, escaped from a train bound to the extermination camp at Treblinka, and survived the rest of World War 2 with a Jewish resistance group hiding in the Polish forest. He died in a Canadian psychiatric institution. 

>> Read Thomas's review below.

>> Read an extract

>> Another extract (and a cheesecake recipe)

>> Hear Wichtel talk with Kim Hill.

>> Wichtel writes about her Jewishness

>> "A book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us." (Franz Kafka)

>> An interview with Wichtel

>> Our stock selection of books on Jewishness includes many on the history imposed upon Jews (and others) by the Nazis in the form of the Holocaust. 

>> A brief history of the Warsaw ghetto

>> More detail

>> Treblinka

>> A little about Jewish partisans in Nazi-occupied Poland.

>> Thomas's review: 
Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father by Diana Wichtel
“It is not you who will speak; let the disaster speak in you, even if it be by your forgetfulness or silence,” wrote Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster. When Diana Wichtel was twelve she moved from Canada to New Zealand with her mother and sister and brother, leaving her increasingly erratic and temperamental father behind. He never followed them and they lost contact. Many years later, Wichtel learned that her father had died in a Canadian psychiatric institution. Trauma expresses itself most eloquently through trauma. Ben Wichtel had survived confinement in the Warsaw ghetto, where he several times woke up next to someone who had died in the night. He jumped from a tiny window in the railway carriage that was transporting him to the Treblinka extermination camp and survived the rest of the war hiding in the forests of Poland with a Jewish resistance group. Almost everyone in his family was killed at Treblinka. Ben Wichtel could not choose not to be damaged by these experiences, and the harm of the Holocaust continues to be passed down through the generations, both within a family and in wider society. “I was always looking for my father,” writes Diana Wichtel, “even when he was still there,” but “you get so used to nothing making any sense that you stop asking questions.” Upon arrival in New Zealand, Diana’s mother set their lives in a new direction and closed down the part of their lives that contained the children’s father. “When parents run from their history they also obliterate the history of their children," writes Wichtel. My mother didn’t know that the things she needed to leave behind in order to survive were precisely the things I needed to hold on to.” Many years later, unable to silence the clamourings of her memories of her father, Diana set out to find out more about him, travelling both to North America and to Poland, where she met and received information from relatives, visited the site of an underground hideout in a Polish forest that might have been where her father hid, and eventually found her father’s grave (with his name misspelled). Her search for the memory of her father involved both a search within herself and a search in the outer world, for memory is most effectively resolved by place. Wichtel’s writing is for the most part forensic and spare, effectively drawing emotional response from the reader rather than imposing it upon them. Although Wichtel finds probably as much about her father as it is possible to find, there is a sense that he is more absent than ever, if anything her father is almost overwritten by what she learns about him (but maybe that is what memory is for). The family provide a new headstone for his grave, one that acknowledges his story, but what happens to the recipient of a gift when they have died long before the giving of that gift? Memory and story are ways of externalising memory and loosening its unspeakable hold (which makes memory a form of forgetting). But, Wichtel insists, “there is no closure”. The Holocaust cannot make people better people. There is only unhealable trauma. “There is no personal growth to be had in that fathomless void.”





11/04/2017 07:35 AM



Elmet by Fiona Mozley, a novel at once both subtly beautiful and compellingly brutal, is this week's Book of the Week. 

>> Stella and Thomas have each reviewed this book.

>> On coffee and procrastination

>> Did Mozley really write this novel on her phone? 

>> Elmet was a Brittonic kingdom in sixth-century Yorkshire

>> The writing of Ted Hughes, like that of Mozley, is rich with imagery of their native Yorkshire and its history

>> Catapulted into fame

>> What are Mozley's favourite books?




10/28/2017 08:52 AM


Our Book of the Week this week is La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, the first book of 'The Book of Dust', the eagerly awaited new series set in the same universe as 'His Dark Materials'. 

>> Read Stella's review below.

>> Two other books from Lyra's world: Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North

>> Daemon Voices (Pullman on storytelling).

>> La Belle Sauvage is also available in hardback. 

>> "The philosophical underpinning of this book is deeply concerned with how authoritarian regimes take power."

>> Pullman: "'The Book of Dust' is about Dust. ... 'The Book of Dust' is not a sequel or a prequel but an equel."

>> 5 minutes with Philip Pullman

>> The Golden Compass film was based on Northern Lights. 

>> On Dust

>> He's already finished writing the sequel! 

>> Some other books by Pullman

Review by STELLA: 
The first in 'The Book of Dust' trilogy is a triumph. I sat down and read it in one sitting and there was no way anything was going to interrupt me (you have been warned!). It’s been almost 20 years since The Amber Spyglass, the third book in 'His Dark Materials' series, and leaving the world of Lyra was difficult for many. La Belle Sauvage is set 10 years before Northern Lights, Lyra is a baby in the care of the nuns at Godstow near Oxford. We are back in the world of daemons, the struggle between the religious order and scientific learning, and the mysterious questions about Dust. The Magisterium’s power is growing in Brytain and there is an increasing sense of unease in the populace. Here we meet Malcolm, an eleven-year-old boy - curious, inventive and good. He helps out at his parent’s pub, clearing glasses and scrubbing pots, he lends a hand to the nuns across the river and it is here he comes across Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon. While 'His Dark Materials' references Milton’s Paradise Lost, this series belongs to Spenser’s Faerie Queen, with touches of the Biblical Great Flood and Gothic storytelling. It feels like all the questions you still had as a reader after completing the previous trilogy are now going to be visited again, amplified - and maybe some answers might be forthcoming. While many of the characters are familiar, we learn more about them and their ambitions. Lyra’s mother, Mrs Coulter, is ever more daunting and compelling and Lord Asriel, her father, maddening and heroic. We are introduced to the fledgling secret organisation formed to resist the fascist and fanatical power-keepers, and the wonderful Hannah Reif, a reader of the wonderful Alethiometer, as well as the strange and dangerously obsessive former scientist who haunts Malcolm. Malcolm is drawn into a world which becomes increasingly dangerous and complex, and his loyalty toward the child is undaunting. As tensions rise, so do the rivers. It rains and rains, and Malcolm, tipped off by a Gyptian, readies his boat, the beautiful canoe, La Belle Sauvage, keeping an eye on the welfare of the child, Lyra. He rescues her as the walls of the nunnery collapse, and, along with the tough and mealy-mouthed Alice, who works at the pub, they start a journey down the Thames, across a flooded Brytain, in swift and dangerous currents. It’s a perilous journey physically, emotionally and mentally, stretching the youths to the edges of their capabilities. Pullman pulls no punches with La Belle Sauvage, with its allegorical layers and deliberations on science, religion and the psyche. It's dark, compelling and incredibly intriguing. Complex, intelligent writing for children, teens and adults alike.