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List o’ Books: the Antipodes, Part One

April 6, 2011


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The other day, I was looking at my books read list and realised I hadn’t read any Australian or Kiwi authors! So naturally, I thought the Antipodes would be a good topic for a book list. Originally, I had planned on doing a list of both Australian and New Zealand books. But I ended up with so many Kiwi possibilities, I’ve decided to save Australia for another time! New Zealand captures my imagination; it’s in my top five of countries I’d love to visit one day but I’m woefully underread in its literature.

Let’s start with the usual New Zealand suspects, shall we? I fully intend to read The Bone People by Keri Hulme (isn’t that tattoo-inspired paperback cover stunning?) this year; a Booker Prize winner, and by all accounts challenging in the best kind of way novel by a Maori author. The only Maori writer I’ve actually read is Witi Ihimaera; I loved The Whale Rider and only wish my library had more of his extensive backlist available. In fact, I’m attempting to inter-library loan The Matriarch; the only library in Texas that has a copy is in Dallas, so we’ll see if I get it. The two best-known classic New Zealand authors often seem English instead: Ngaio Marsh, with her Golden Age mysteries and Katherine Mansfield, friend to British authors such as D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. I have a copy of The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield knocking about here somewhere; I’ve read “The Garden Party” and liked it, so I’m sure I’ll read more of her work some day. As for Marsh, she’s not my favourite Golden Age author, but if you want to give her a try, the series (featuring British detective Roderick Alleyn) begins with A Man Lay Dead. Lloyd Jones is quite popular in the book blogosphere for his novel Mister Pip. I, on the other hand, very much want to read his nonfiction book about his travels in Albania (one of the last remaining one-man dictatorships) Biografi. Another author I see relatively frequently on book blogs is Elizabeth Knox; most bloggers love The Vintner’s Luck, a historical novel featuring an angel as a main character. I ended up not connecting with it, but I’m eager to give Knox another go and have decided (with Memory’s advice) to plump for her fantasy novel Dreamhunters. Finally, Janet Frame has featured in my Library Loot before; unfortunately, I’ve yet to manage to actually read one of her novels! I’ve requested her debut, Owls Do Cry, yet again, and this time I’ll be sure to get to it before it’s due.

That pretty much exhausts my previous knowledge of Kiwi authors; I also read a marvelous nonfiction book, Aphrodite’s Island (about when Europeans first arrived at Tahiti) by historian Anne Salmond. She’s written two other books about the meetings between Europeans and Pacific Islanders; I imagine they’re just as good. Now on to the authors I turned up in my research; let’s stick with nonfiction for now, shall we?

  • Joan Druett is a Kiwi historian who specialises in maritime history. Not all of her books focus on New Zealand, but Island of the Lost does! I have a softspot for seafaring books of any persuasion.
  • Judith Binney was originally Australian, but she attended university in New Zealand and stayed as a history professor until her passing this February. Most of her books concern the Maori and garnered her praise and honours. Her most recent publication, Encircled lands: Te Urewera, 1820-1921, won the NZ Book of the Year award.
  • Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson is a travel book by Thompson, an American, who ended up marrying a Maori man. The book mixes Thompson’s personal experiences with a look at New Zealand’s geography, history, and culture.
  • First Year in Canterbury Settlement by Samuel Butler: is another travelogue, this time written by a British author who spent five years in New Zealand in the nineteenth century. It’s available for free from Project Gutenberg, and shall be finding its way to Althie (my Nook) soon!

Quite a few of the marvelous sounding Kiwi titles I turned up could be categorised as ‘young adult,’ although I hate that because some readers assume any YA book is fluffy and/or beneath them. In reality, books are marketed as YA or adult differently in different countries; in the States, it seems like if a book has a teenage protagonist, it’s immediately labelled YA here. Anyway, my hope is that you won’t immediately dismiss these authors!

  • Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey: this one immediately caught my eye, because it’s set in a boarding school, has supernatural elements, and includes Maori legends. Squee! Doesn’t it sound like an Eva book?
  • The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi: shortlisted for the NZ Book Award, this book features a twelve-year-old worrywart protagonist whose life is turned upside down when a new girl arrives at his school.
  • Maurice Gee is one of those authors with an almost unbelievably prolific backlist! While it was difficult for me to find more information about his earlier books, it looks like most of them feature younger protagonists. Fire Raiser stood out to me for its World War I setting; I’m far more interested in that era than WWII, despite the latter’s overwhelming popularity. But really, it seems like you could start anywhere and end up happy!

As a mystery lover, I was delighted to turn up several new-to-me authors that I now fully intend to investigate:

  • Rose Beecham has a mystery series set in Wellington featuring a lesbian sleuth. The first is entitled Introducing Amanda Valentine.
  • Joan Druett: was in the nonfiction section for her maritime histories, but she also writes a historical mystery series set amongst the US Navy’s explorations of the Pacific. It begins with A Watery Grave.
  • Shirker by Chad Taylor: this is apparently noir, which isn’t a mystery genre I’ve read much of in the past, but Taylor has gotten good reviews.

While I don’t often deliberately seek out historical fiction, I do respect it (after all, Victor Hugo and Leo Tolstoy were both masters) and regularly enjoy the books I do come across. A few historical Kiwi titles caught my eye:

  • Season of the Jew by Maurice Shadbolt : this is set during a Maori rebellion that was inspired by the Old Testament.
  • As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong: it’s set in Wellington’s Chinatown during the early twentieth century (1905-1922), one of my favourite time periods.
  • The Sound Of Butterflies by Rachael King: King is from New Zealand, although this is set in Edwardian England and Brazil. It’s about an amateur naturalist; natural history, especially as it was historically practiced, is one of my favourite little topics to read about! This has been published here, so I’ve put in a purchasing suggestion to my library.
  • Fiona Kidman: she seems to have written almost every style of book: poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs, even a play! Her well-organised website lists them all for your browsing pleasure; I have my eye on The Book of Secrets, a novel set in the nineteenth century about immigrants who span the globe, from Scotland to Canada to Australia.

Finally, here are five more New Zealand authors who don’t fit neatly into any category but fiction! ;)

  • Alan Duff: he’s a part-Maori author who is best known for Once Were Warriors, a bleak, gritty view of contemporary Maori life.
  • C K Stead: quite a prolific author, and one who seems to be part of the ‘literary’ scene (yes, those are skeptical quotation marks). My library has two of his books: Sister Hollywood and The Secret History of Modernism.
  • Patricia Grace: a Maori author that Kinna brought to my attention. She sounds marvelous, although my library doesn’t carry any of her works. Kinna suggested Potiki and Cousins.
  • Marilyn Duckworth: Duckworth is primarily a novelist, although she’s also published a collection of short stories and one of poetry. A Gap in the Spectrum was her debut, published in 1959 while her best-known is the more recent Disorderly Conduct, which one several awards.

Whew! So many new authors for me to try, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities. If you’re interested in doing some more exploring of New Zealand literature, I’d recommend this helpful page by the Christchuch City Library detailing literary awards. Also, my personal favourite Kiwi Maree is running the Kiwi YA Challenge that last all year. She also hosts an annual mini-challenge that coincides with New Zealand Book Month (which used to occur in October, but this year was moved to March).

Feel free to suggest your own favourite New Zealand books in the comments; I’d love to see the list grow even longer, since then it will be a better resource. :) And of course, chime in if you’ve read any of the titles or authors I mentioned!

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2011 6:48 am

    That is some list!!! Ahhhhh Guardian of the Dead is SO good!! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it! There are so many here that I haven’t read myself!

    Fireraiser – I remember reading that as a kid. There was a TV series as well. Also if you can find it, Gee’s fantasy trilogy starting with The Halfmen of O is pretty good – probably middle grade rather than YA but they’re fun :-)

    Enjoy! :D

    • April 9, 2011 2:47 am

      You crack me up Maree! Thanks for the additional recs. :)

  2. April 6, 2011 7:45 am

    The Bone People , whew. I’ve been trying to read this book for ages but couldn’t. Found the accent a bit difficult. But, I’m going to give it another try after throughly enjoy Patricia Grace’s Collected Stories . Wonderful list of books. I’m looking forward to Part two. BTW, check out my two favorite Aussie blog, Whispering Gums and ANZ Litlovers Litblog. Lisa (of ANZ) has a list of Aussie books which one must read to get a sense of the Aussie literary landscape.

    • April 9, 2011 2:48 am

      I hope I connect w The Bone People more than you! I’ve heard it’s challenging. Thanks for the blog recs; I’ll definitely go visit them. :)

  3. April 6, 2011 8:49 am

    WOW! I have never heard of any of these (except the film version of Whale Rider, which I loved). Definitely going to be adding some of these to the TBR list. Thanks.

  4. April 6, 2011 9:00 am

    What a fantastic list! I’ve been wanting to read more works from Australia and New Zealand (I think I’ve only managed two in the last year – Eucalyptus by Murray Bail and The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton) so this is the perfect inspiration for me. I’m particularly intrigued by The Sound of Butterflies.

    • April 9, 2011 2:49 am

      I didn’t read very many last year either. ;) Doesn’t The Sound of Butterflies seem marvelous?! I’m so annoyed my library doesn’t have it. The author has another novel too, set in Victorian England, about tattoos. Sounds like a woman to watch. ;)

  5. April 6, 2011 9:08 am

    I’ve read The Bone People a couple of times and loved it. It’s been a few years though, so I think I’m due a re-read. The only other author I’d heard of was Janet Frame, who I’ve been wanting to read for ages.

    • April 9, 2011 2:50 am

      Good to hear praise for The Bone People!

  6. April 6, 2011 9:40 am

    I loved the Bone People. It’s a bit tough to get into, but then the story is really captivating. It’s one I intend to read again when I get the chance.

  7. April 6, 2011 10:17 am

    Oh yay, an Eva book list post! :) I’ve read hardly any books from Australia or New Zealand (shame on me!), but I’ll have to change that! And so many books you mentioned sounded great, so I’m sure I’ll find something I’ll enjoy.

    • April 9, 2011 2:52 am

      I know: I didn’t realise how long it’d been since I put a list together! Whoops.

  8. April 6, 2011 10:44 am

    The Vintner’s Luck is on my list, but Guardian of the Dead gets a bonus point because there’s an ace character in there. :)

  9. Ruthiella permalink
    April 6, 2011 12:48 pm

    I read “The Bone People” many years ago and liked it. Please also do try “Angel at my Table” by Janet Frame. I have never read any of her fiction, but the memoir “Angel at my Table” was just fantastic.

  10. April 6, 2011 12:51 pm

    I love your lists! And it comes at the perfect time!

    My brother and his wife leave in three weeks for New Zealand and she JUST asked me for some books about the country and by New Zealanders. I am going to direct her here. :)

    I am so jealous that they are going and not stuffing me into their suitcase, so i may just read a few of these titles! :)

    • April 9, 2011 2:54 am

      Thanks Allie! And I’m so glad I could help, although I’m terribly envious of their trip. ;)

  11. April 6, 2011 1:53 pm

    wonderful list of fiction ,I ve not read much from this area in recent times ,like others bone people is one I want to read as I know it was a shock when it won the booker ,all the best stu

    • April 9, 2011 2:55 am

      I remember reading something about it being an upset that year!

  12. April 6, 2011 2:15 pm

    Thanks so much for this Eva! I visited New Zealand a couple of years ago and it was the most extraordinary and inspiring country. What struck me most was how young it is – just 800 years of human habitation and barely 150 years since settlement from the West. I’ll be very interested to try some of the historical fiction you mention. And I’ve been meaning to investigate Janet Frame for ages too. :-)

    • April 9, 2011 2:56 am

      I’m glad I could help out Victoria. :) Its youth is definitely striking!

  13. April 6, 2011 4:17 pm

    Thanks for the great list. I’ve been updating my GoodReads page like mad. Have to admit the only one I’d read was “Whale Rider.” But like you, I loved it. Let us know if “The Matriarch” is as good.

    You might try “Gould’s Book of Fish” by Richard Flanagan. It’s set in a Tasmanian penal colony and is really intriguing. I loved the construction of the physical book, too. Different colored fonts for different sections. It’s pretty.

    • April 9, 2011 2:57 am

      Glad I could help inspire you! And wasn’t Whale Rider marvelous? The Flanagan is on my Aussie list. :D

      • April 11, 2011 9:44 pm

        Hope you share your Aussie list when you get to it!

  14. April 6, 2011 5:36 pm

    I love this list! I really need to read more kiwi authors myelf; since I arrived, I’ve only read books by Elizabeth Knox, Dylan Horrocks and Witi Ihimaera. I have another kiwi graphic novel on my read-a-thon pile, though, and I hope I can squeeze in one or two more kiwi reads before I head back to Canada.

    • April 6, 2011 5:39 pm

      Oh, and I almost forgot: even though you didn’t connect with THE VINTNER’S LUCK, it might be worth giving THE ANGEL’S CUT a go. It’s set in Hollywood in the 20s and 30s, and is among the best books I’ve read in the past few years.

    • April 9, 2011 2:58 am

      I’m glad you love it! When do you head back to Canada again? And good to know re: Angel’s Cut; I do love the 20s and 30s.

  15. April 6, 2011 5:53 pm

    I’ve liked everything I’ve read so far by CK Stead. I want to read Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors.

    My Kiwi friend brought me a book of short stories called The Six Pack that is still on the TBR.

  16. April 6, 2011 6:31 pm

    I’ve bookmarked this. Thank you so much for providing this list! I am woefully under read when it comes to Australia/New Zealand/Oceania. Can’t wait to see which books you list for Australia.

    • April 9, 2011 2:59 am

      Glad I could help Christina! I should do one on the Pacific Islands too, shouldn’t I? That one will be more of a challenge. ;)

  17. April 6, 2011 6:43 pm

    This is an amazing reference list – one that I will definitely refer back to in the future. Thanks, Eva!

  18. April 6, 2011 9:56 pm

    I was thisclose to buying The Bone People the other day, precisely because I haven’t read any Australian/New Zealand lit. I might go back and get it (the cover is definitely a plus!).

    Fantastic work on the list! :)

  19. April 7, 2011 10:40 am

    I hope you get the book from Dallas. (As a Texas writer, how did I not know that you live in Texas? I think the spelling of “favourite” threw me off….)By the way, I noticed your recommendation of a Sherman Alexie story, and I wanted to mention that I’m currently reading an interesting book, A Collection of Critical Essays on that author. It’s okay, but only a tenth as good as his collected interviews. Alexie is endlessly fascinating.

    • April 9, 2011 3:01 am

      I just moved back to Texas last October! And yep, I tend to spell like a Brit because I spent seven years of my childhood there.

      Alexie is definitely fascinating!

  20. April 7, 2011 3:40 pm

    Guardian of the Dead and Once Were Warriors sound fabulous. Your lists are the best and I always end up putting several books on my TBR. :-)

  21. April 7, 2011 8:57 pm

    I have that very edition of The Bone People on my shelf…I love the cover! And I haven’t read Once Were Warriors, but I hear the movie is very powerful.

    And I know you’re not talking about Australia yet, but did you see Becky’s review of The Sinkings? It looks good!
    http://www.pageturnersbooks.org/2011/04/sinkings-by-amanda-curtin-australian.html

    • April 9, 2011 3:02 am

      So jealous Jill! And thanks for the link. :)

  22. April 10, 2011 7:40 am

    The Maurice Gee book I read for the challenge was ‘Plumb’, and that was great, especially if you enjoy ecclesiastical drama à la Trollope or Oliphant :)

  23. April 10, 2011 12:51 pm

    Eva – Thanks so much for posting this. I’m from NZ orginally so it was especially lovely to read your list. This is a great list, I’m woefully underread in this area but have read The Bone People which I found to be difficult and flawed but ultimately amazing. The Sound of Butterflies sounds great doesn’t it?

    Enjoy and I look forward to your Australian list 0:)

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