Saturday, 23 May 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #179 (23.5.20)

Read our newsletters for news, new releases, our reviews, giveaways, &c. 

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

Walking by Thomas Bernhard    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
It is thought that makes life intolerable, suggests Bernhard in this 1971 novella that both anticipates and provides a key to reading his subsequent novels of ineluctable self-erasure (notably 1975’s Correction). Bernhard is constantly in mind of the widespread complicity of his fellow Austrians in Nazism, both a symptom and a cause of many of the societal ills by which he is perplexed and disgusted. “I ask myself, says Oehler, how can so much helplessness and so much misfortune and so much misery be possible? That nature can create so much misfortune and so much palpable horror. That nature can be so ruthless toward its most helpless and pitiable creatures. This limitless capacity for suffering, says Oehler. This limitless capricious will to procreate and then to survive misfortune.” But there is no real difference, suggests Bernhard, between objective and subjective suffering. “When we imagine ourselves to be in a state of mind, no matter what, we are in that state of mind, and thus in that state of illness which we imagine ourselves to be in.” We are unavoidably perplexed by our existence and cannot help thinking about it, but thought will not do us any good, as we are always carried towards the conclusion we strive most to avoid, drawn to it by this striving. “If we see something, we check what we see until we are forced to say that what we are looking at is horrible. If we do something, we think about what we are doing until we are forced to say that it is something nasty, something low, something outrageous.” In Bernhard’s works, thought is a kind of a chute leading towards madness and suicide, a chute down which all characters slide, faster or slower, obsessed, losing perspective. “Circumstances are everything, we are nothing.” How, then, are we to carry on existing? “There is little doubt that the art lies in bearing what is unbearable and in not feeling that what is horrible is something horrible. Of course we have to label this art the most difficult of all. The art of existing against the facts. If we do not constantly exist against, but only constantly with the facts, says Oehler, we shall go under in the shortest possible time.” “The art of thinking about things consists in the art, says Oehler, of stopping thinking before the fatal moment.” In common with many of Bernhard’s novels, the unnamed narrator of Walking is effectively passive, effectively annihilated by his role of *merely* reporting what his friend Oehler tells him during their walk or walks together. Oehler’s observations chiefly concern another one-time walking companion, Karrer, who has recently gone “irrevocably mad” and been confined to the Steinhof lunatic asylum. Karrer’s madness  followed the suicide of his friend, the chemist Hollensteiner, and you can feel the pull of this annihilation reaching through the layers of narration as far as the narrator himself, each character being effaced by their narration. “I am struck by how often Oehler quotes Karrer without expressly drawing attention to the fact that he is quoting Karrer. Oehler frequently makes several statements that stem from Karrer and frequently thinks a thought that Karrer thought, I think, without expressly saying, what I am now saying comes from Karrer.” The second of the three paragraphs that constitute the novella describes Karrer’s breakdown in Rustenschacher’s clothing shop, irrevocably losing perspective, ranting about what he perceives as the inferior cloth from which the trousers are sewn, repeatedly banging his walking stick upon the counter. At times the layers of narration are wonderfully deep, such as when the narrator tells us what Oehler tells the narrator that Oehler told the psychiatric doctor Scherrer about what Karrer said and did in Rustenschacher’s shop, and the novella becomes as much about the migration of narrative burden as it is about what the narrative is about. Habit, character, tendency, circumstance comprise a trap, a trap we find ourselves in when we begin to think but into which thinking can only drive us deeper. “When we walk, we walk from one helplessness to another. It is suddenly clear you can do what you like but you cannot walk away. No longer being able to alter this problem of no longer being able to walk away occupies your whole life. From then on it is all that occupies your life. You then grow more and more helpless and weaker and weaker.” All Bernhard’s subsequent novels address this problem of the obliterative nature of thought. “We may not think about why we are walking, says Oehler, for then it would soon be impossible to walk.”

>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Long Take by Robin Robertson  {Reviewed by STELLA}
A beautifully crafted novel, The Long Take is an epic narrative poem by renowned Scottish poet Robin Robertson. Kicking off in New York, 1946, it follows the life of Walker, a recently returned soldier. A survivor of D-Day, Walker is displaced by trauma, unable to return to his family, his life, his love in Nova Scotia. His life, like that of many others he encounters, has been turned inside out, and he carries a burden, a guilt he can not discharge. Unemployed, a friend suggests fronting up to a local newspaper, The Press, who are looking for reporters. Walker joins the city news desk, reporting on crime and street politics. Walker’s affinity with the streets, living on the edge, and contact with skid row leads to an assignment to document the lives of the poor and homeless: an investigative piece of work that takes him to LA and San Francisco. As we travel across America with Walker and along these cities’ streets over a decade, we are given an insight into the lives of the disenfranchised and into the impact of war trauma on a nation and an individual. Add to this the politics of the 40s and 50s - the era of cronyism, McCarthyism and mob rule, organised crime and state corruption - the novel is a cutting indictment of the ‘American Dream’, the rise of the automobile and the impact this had on communities (highways and parking lots that killed communities), the falsity of war as a democratic tool, and the injustice to those who fight for freedom yet become victims of power. It’s also a hymn to the film industry of this period - to film noir; the images and language of these films cleverly interweave with the tone of the streetscape and the atmosphere of the novel. Walker is a compelling man, a man who carries a history that he feels can only be understood by his comrades in arms, by those who have experienced similar trauma. He dulls his building emotional disintegration with liquor and by keeping his distance - never becoming entangled in relationships. His work colleagues find him unreadable, and those he has the most affinity live on skid row, particularly Billy Idaho - a well-read street philosopher who helps those he can survive the streets. Walker, like Idaho, is kind and has a compassion for his fellow humans: he is an anti-hero that we empathise with - an outsider who will get under your skin. Through the keenly observant Walker, we experience the city, its people and its neighbourhoods. We see desperation, violence and the strength of community. For Walker, burying his trauma is never going to be a solution. Violence simmers at his edges and guilt plays on his conscience, and as the decade progresses his past haunts him. Robertson’s writing is wonderful: evocative, enchanting, raw and affecting. From narrative verse -descriptions of the cityscape and dialogue between characters - to hard, almost unbearable, staccato-like images of war, to lyrical memories of Walker’s childhood and life in Nova Scotia, the poetry has clarity and visibility yet never removes the reader from the story. The Long Take is a novel about us now just as much as it is a filmic exposé of post-war America, exploring issues of poverty, racism, fascism and freedom. Powerful, inventive and uncompromising.

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld    $33
This memorable novel, short-listed for the 2020 Booker International Prize, tells of the impact of a tragic accident on the the world-view of a ten-year-old growing up in a religious family on a rural dairy farm. The book is shot through with memorable images, unsettling moments, and passages of remarkable linguistic power. 
>>"It's difficult for my parents to understand that I'm not the girl they raised."
>>"My stories all come back to the loss of my brother"
>>An interview with the translator, Michele Hutchison
>>The dairy farmer who wrote a best-seller
>>'Grief Eaters'.
>>See the other books on the Booker International Prize short list

High Wire by Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod         $45
A fascinating and beautifully presented collaboration between writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod, exploring the tensions, exhilarations and dangers of the metaphorical tightrope walked by all who step out above the void in the search of new experience. Macleod's figures struggle against consuming backgrounds, or to emerge from the scribbles that are their genesis, and Jones's words slice and hum with the clarity of taut wires. An excellent piece of publishing. 
>>Find out more about the book
>>Read Thomas's review.
Ephemera by Tina Shaw             $30
After an international meltdown, New Zealand, along with the rest of the world, has shut down. No electricity, no broadband, and people are in survival mode - at least until somebody turns the lights on again. Ruth has always led a sheltered life. Pre-Crash, she worked as an Ephemera Librarian, now she is managing a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle. But her sister is dying from tuberculosis and her love for Juliana propels Ruth to undertake a perilous journey. She intrepidly sets off from Auckland to find the man known as Nelson and his rumoured stockpile of pharmaceutical drugs.
“Shaw’s near-future New Zealand is all too recognisable, and her story both unsettles and thrills. Ephemera is not only a page-turner; it’s a book that makes us question what we value — what we discard, and what remains to us.” —Catherine Chidgey
>>Read an extract.
>>Read another extract.
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth          $38
Two auditors for the U.S. egg industry go rogue and conceive a plot to steal a million chickens in the middle of the night — an entire egg farm's worth of animals. Janey and Cleveland — a spirited former runaway and the officious head of audits — assemble a precarious, quarrelsome team and descend on the farm on a dark spring evening. A series of catastrophes ensues.

>>Warning: contains poultry
What Sort of Man by Breton Dukes      $30
A young father high on Ritalin longs to leap into the tiger enclosure. A teacher who has been stood down for accessing porn on a school computer wants to re-establish contact with his teenage daughter. A carer out on a day trip is desperate to find a working toilet for his adult charge. What Sort of Man is a potent collection of stories that goes head to head with the crisis of contemporary masculinity, and is as exhilarating as it is harrowing.
>>The virtual book launch with music and a drinks menu
The Voice in my Ear by Frances Leviston           $40
Ten women, all called Claire, are tangled up in complex power dynamics with their families, friends, and lovers. Though all are different ages, and leading different lives, each is haunted by the difficulty of living on her own terms, and by her capacity to harm and be harmed.
"Frances Leviston’s prose, like her poetry, is as illuminating as it is unsettling. Her narratives are all about what remains unsaid and the silent inexorable falling into place of deep truth." —Lavinia Greenlaw
"'Beautifully, psychologically exact. Leviston reveals, confronts, disarms and pares us from our unwitting, falser selves. Superbly written and fearlessly imagined fiction.'" —Sarah Hall
Correspondence, 1948—1961 between Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan      $42
Paul Celan is one of the best-known German poets of the Holocaust; many of his poems, admired for their spare, precise diction, deal directly with its stark themes. Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann is recognised as one of post-World War II German literature's most important novelists, poets, and playwrights. As well as being, for a time, lovers, the two shared a long correspondence in which they passionately discussed their interests in the relationship between literature and trauma, and much else. This is the first time these letters have appeared in English. 
>>Read Thomas's review of Bachmann's novel Malina
Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian        $40
Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, leads an unremarkable life. A solitary man since the unexpected deaths of his father and mother years ago, he is decidedly apolitical—even during the driver's strike and its bloody end. But everyone has their breaking point, and Yunus has reached his. Handcuffed and blindfolded, he is taken to the infamous Evin prison for political dissidents. Inside this stark, strangely ordered world, his fate becomes entwined with Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator.

Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books by Marcel Bénabou    $36
He does not write any books, but he is nonetheless a writer, he does not write any books but the books he does not write are still books and are still his books, he does not write any of his books but this is not to say that he does not spend his time writing books. 

>>On reading Bénabou 
A Bear Named Bjorn by Delphine Perret         $25
Bjorn lives in the forest with his animal friends. When a sofa is delivered to his cave, he is not impressed — what will he do with it? When his friend Ramona, who is a human and lives in the city, sends him the present of a fork, he knows what it is for — to scratch his back — but what would be a good present to send in return? Bjorn is happy just being himself — he doesn’t want to wear his new spectacles, because he likes the world blurry. A charming book about being happy who you are. 

The Idea of the Brain: A history by Matthew Cobb         $70

The relationship between the brain and the mind seems unsolvable, but attempts to solve it has brought us a better understanding of both. This book spans the centuries to reveal how the work of philosophers, surgeons, mystics and neuroscientists have shaped the way we understand ourselves at the most profound level. From primitive dissections to the latest complex computational models of brain function, Cobb charts the course of this continuing quest, and prepares us for the astonishing discoveries to come.

Not in Narrow Seas: The economic history of Aoteroa New Zealand by Brian Easton         $60
Both wide in scope and incisive in depth, Easton's magisterial work examines the broad swathe of economic activity in New Zealand, from pre-contact gift-based exchange systems to the current government's struggle with the economic impact of climate change. Easton is always alert to the impact of economic activity on all groups in society and on the environment, and of the contributions of all groups and the environment to the character and range of that economic activity. Is New Zealand a fair country? (and what does that mean?)
Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world by Marcia Bjornerud          $42
Reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth's deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can provide the perspective needed for a more sustainable future. The book offers a new way of thinking about our place in time, showing how our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and how our actions today will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations.
>>Bjornerud on New Zealand's tectonic dragon

>>Are we time-illiterate? 
Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British baking, savoury and sweet by Regula Ysewijn      $55
A guided tour of Great Britain's baking heritage. Each of the 100 recipes is accompanied by stories of the landscape, legends and traditions of Great Britain, from Saffron cake, Cornish pasties, Welsh Bara brith, Shrewsbury cakes and Isle of Wight doughnuts to tarts, oatcakes, gingerbreads, traditional loaves, buns and bread rolls such as Aberdeen butteries and Kentish huffkins. From the author of the remarkable Pride and Pudding
>>Visit Ysewijn's website

Tooth and Veil: The life and times of the New Zealand Dental Nurse by Noel O'Hare        $50

>>Welcome to 'the 'Murder House'.
We are Attempting to Survive Our Time by A.L. Kennedy         $37
Kennedy has an immense and subtle sympathy with those who struggle with the lives that others take for granted, and that sympathy draws from clouded lives an often surprising levity and hope. This new collection of stories sees Kennedy at her best, turning the minds of her characters inside-out. 
"Kennedy is brilliant at subtly shifting the ground of her stories, gently rotating your perspective so that by the end you’re facing in quite the other direction, not sure of how you got there." —Guardian
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell          $26
A multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-family mix of historical fiction, magical realism and science fiction set in Zambia through the twentieth century, featuring a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, and homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines.  

Aspiring by Damien Wilkins         $22

Fifteen-year-old Ricky lives in Aspiring, a town that's growing at an alarming rate. Ricky's growing, too - 6'7", and taller every day. But he's stuck in a loop: student, uncommitted basketballer, and puzzled son, burdened by his family's sadness. And who's the weird guy in town with a chauffeur and half a Cadillac? What about the bits of story that invade his head? Uncertain what's real — and who he is  Ricky can't stop sifting for clues. He has no idea how things will end up.

Pins by Natalie Morrison      $25
If all the pins in the world were gathered together
you would be very much pleased.
But all the pins in the world
cannot be gathered
A book-length poem telling of a sister's disappearance and other losses. 

"I found Pins extraordinarily witty, perceptive, and moving. The family narrative unspools around two sisters whose pointed obsessions bring us something that echoes Wallace Stevens’ ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ and Anne Kennedy’s 100 Traditional Smiles." —James Brown
The Department of Mind-Blowing Theories: Science cartoons by Tom Gauld          $28
A dog philosopher questions what it really means to be a 'good boy'. A virtual assistant and a robot-cleaner elope. The undiscovered species and the theoretical particle face existential despair.

"Tom Gauld is always funny, but he's funny in a way that makes you feel smarter. Which is especially useful when he's being funny about science." —Neil Gaiman
>>Some samples!

This week's Book of the Week has just won the Non-Fiction Award at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and been awarded the E.H. McCormick Award for General Non-Fiction at the Mito-Q Best First Book Awards. In DEAD PEOPLE I HAVE KNOWN, Shayne Carter tells of his struggle against odds both external and internal and of both his success and precarity as a songwriter and performer in the New Zealand indie music scene. The Ockhams judges said: "From the first page, Shayne Carter‘s Dead People I Have Known invites the reader to jump right in and come along for the ride. What follows is an illuminating insight into the childhood, shaped by violence and addiction, of a boy who didn’t fit in and felt saved by music. The insider’s view of the development of the music scene in Dunedin makes a valuable contribution to the sparsely populated field of New Zealand music writing. More especially it is a fascinating look at what it means and how it feels to be a creative obsessive — pushing towards perfection despite and because of addiction, oblivion and isolation. It is rock-star writing: entertaining, revealing and incredibly heartfelt."
>>Read Stella's review.
>>Shayne Carter talks to Kim Hill
>>Bored Games (1982)
>>The Dunedin music scene (1984)
>>The Doublehappys live (1984).
>>The Straightjacket Fits live (1988)
>>Interview, 1994. 
>>Dimmer (2009).
>>Randolph's Going Home live (2014).
>>Waiting Game live (2016).
>>A return to his old stomping ground
>>Carter at the AWF
>>Your copy

Saturday, 16 May 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #178 (16.5.20)

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Book of the WeekHIGH WIRE, a collaboration between writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod, is an arrestingly beautiful and deeply thoughtful picture book for grown-ups. The book explores the tensions, exhilarations and dangers of the metaphorical tightrope walked by all who step out above the void in the search of new experience, and other tentative structures reaching across voids and gaps. Macleod's figures struggle against consuming backgrounds, or to emerge from the scribbles that are their genesis, while Jones's words slice and hum with the clarity of taut wires. 
>>Read Thomas's review
>>Listen and look. 
>>Some sample pages
>>10 questions with Lloyd Jones
>>Read an excerpt
>>"A fine combination."
>>Macleod on painting the figure
>>The book is designed by Gary Stewart of The Gas Project.
>>Other books by Lloyd Jones. 
>>Other paintings by Euan Mcleod.
>>An excellent piece of publishing from Massey University Press
>>Your copy to your doorstep or ready to collect

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

High Wire by Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
A person on a bridge “is not on land, nor in the water, nor in the air.” A person on a bridge is in a no-place, a transitional space, they are necessarily an intruder, an interloper mandated only by the structure upon which they walk, the structure they must not doubt, traversing that which they have no right to traverse, that which they would not be able to traverse without the guile and intention that are concentrated as the bridge. “Bridges play to our vanities,” writes Jones. If there were no bridges, he writes, “longing would return to the landscape,” fulfillment would be attainable — and would remain unsullied by our attempts to attain it. Bridges, it seems, have the shape of a desire — up and over and down — “a bridge is an adult form.” But only “birds have no need of bridges.” High Wire is an arresting and thoughtful book, a collaboration between writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod, exploring the tensions, exhilarations and dangers of the metaphorical tightrope walked by all who step out above the void in the search of new experience, as well as the construction and use of other tentative structures to reach across voids and gaps. “The task of a bridge is to grasp two possibilities without favour,” writes Jones, “a bridge is evidence of a shared value system. … The bridge must be kept safe and reliable, even if the place of origin will need to be remade.” Jones sees himself sitting in Wellington, writing his text as a way of making and walking a metaphorical bridge across the metaphorical Tasman towards Macleod’s studio in Sydney, “a dreamspace … like an empty cell conditioned to the pacing of its solitary prisoner,” where Macleod is painting and drawing as a way of making and walking the same bridge. A bridge, be it handrailed or wire-thin, crosses, in any act of creation, a void over which passage is always presumptuous and uncertain, a void that seems to resent our evasion of its pull, a void that exerts its attraction therefore on all who attempt a crossing. Jones and Macleod struggle to cross not only to each other but to us. Every creative act, writes Jones, is something like the act of Philippe Petit crossing a high wire between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974, “able to place his feet in a space where no-one else had. Seeing a path where no-one else had.” Crossing, “and then dismantling, and tidying up after.” Passage, though, is never certain. Macleod's stooped figures struggle against consuming backgrounds, or to emerge from the scribbles that are their genesis and which threaten to entangle them, they have a lumpenness or excess of gravity which threatens to pull them off the threads they cross, and, while Jones's words slice and hum with the clarity of taut wires, they also threaten to snap at any moment, to ping back, to tumble him out of his thoughts and into the empty page. To cross a bridge is an act of faith, or, if you are not capable of faith, an act of the suppression of doubt, if the suppression of doubt can be an act. “Even before [your step] has landed you are already beginning to rise. … I was lifted into a space unclaimed by language,” writes Jones, but “words must be found. It is a new thing. And, newness springs up all around. The journey is one of progressive naming — between here and there.”

>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Motherhood by Sheila Heti    {Reviewed by STELLA}
A book about motherhood by Sheila Heti. Or is it? Heti’s ‘novel’, much like her excellent How Should A Person Be? is much less novel and more a series of not-quite-true but ever-so-true deliberations, and an existential rant — but the best kind: indulgent, prescient, intimate (unnervingly so at times) and extremely funny in a strange sideways glimpse at herself and others like her. Although she would almost believe she is the only one obsessing over the question, To have a child or not?  It’s a book about motherhood, about being a parent, and what that relationship means or could provide a person, as much as it is a book about writing and the obsessive nature of creative practice and the need for this self-awareness to be a good creative — an 'art monster' (Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation). Yet Heti is torn between her desire to write and the pleasure, the satisfaction this brings her, and the confusion that swirls in her head about being a mother and whether this will bring her a different completion. As she obsesses about motherhood she questions everyone and observes her friends and family about this elusive — to her —  state of being. She wrongly or rightly presumes that she should have a child, that she wants a child, and on the other hand, she does not. Her dilemma is mired in expectations, both external and internal, and the 'ticking clock', of which women are constantly reminded. Are you past the age of being a worthwhile contributor? Even in 2020, we are judged on our reproductive choices (think about women’s rights over their own bodies in regard to abortion laws), and somehow procreating, even in times of crisis (environmental and economic), is still way up there on people’s to-do lists. Not that Heti is overly concerned about the politics of reproduction or motherhood: her focus is on the intensely personal — on her experience and where these thoughts, these deliberations, take her and the reader. She’s irrational and highly emotional, and this makes her book one of the best about motherhood and the questioning of its function, on an intellectual as well as emotional level. Her book is, in the end, is as much a look at what it means to be someone's child as it is to have a child. Her deliberations take her on a journey of understanding her own mother and her grandmother and their roles as parents and individuals — a revelation that we don’t clearly think about. We know how we are as a child of our parents, but when do we consider what that relationship means from the other view — who we are, what we mean, to the mother (or father)? And if you can’t address your existential question about whether to have a child or not, you can do what Shelia Heti does and consult the coin — heads for yes, tails for no — and ask yourself a series of questions (often ridiculous and very amusing)  about yourself, your intimates and your writing. For this is a book about being a writer. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Category winners and judges' citations, 2020
Click through for your copies. 

Auē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press)       $35
Auē, by first-time novelist Becky Manawatu, introduces readers to the orphaned Arama, who is deposited in rural Kaikōura with relatives, and his brother Taukiri, a young man fending for himself in the big smoke. There is violence and sadness and rawness in this book, but buoyant humour, too, remarkable insights into the minds of children and young men, incredible forgiveness and a massive suffusion of love. With its uniquely New Zealand voice, its sparing and often beautiful language, the novel patiently weaves the strands of its tale into an emotionally enveloping korowai, or cloak. In the words of Tara June Winch, our international co-judge, “There is something so assured and flawless in the delivery of the writing voice that is almost like acid on the skin.”

How to Live by Helen Rickerby (Auckland University Press)     $25
How to Live names, excavates and exhumes both silenced and previously muffled women. There is a power in naming them and exploring their stories, like a poetic version of war memorials dotted throughout our cities and regions, villages. In doing so, these women get an identity, a voice and an intergenerational existence. This collection demands much of us: to move, to discover, to challenge, to chastise, to entertain, to teach, to dare and to awaken. It talks honestly about masculine/feminine yin/yang, and requires the reader to be and to consider both silence and listening, hearing and speaking. How to Live is a brave collection that doesn’t back down from a societal lesson that, unfortunately, still needs repeating, and often.

Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance edited by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns (Te Papa Press)        $70
From a strong pool of contenders, one book stood above the others, not only achieving excellence in writing, illustration and design, but also – crucially – tackling a vast and significant topic worthy of these urgent times. Readers are drawn into Aotearoa’s rich and raw stories from contact to now. Engaging, insightful and incredibly well-researched texts by multiple authors provide a cohesive and strong overall narrative, covering a huge breadth of our history and the themes that define us as a nation. The tactile, hand-hewn approach to design complements the huge variety of assiduously collected objects that are this book’s focus. From the obscure and ephemeral to the well-known and loved, the images allow us to be witness to — and challenge us to learn from — our shared past of resistance, dissent and activism.

Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (Victoria University Press)     $40
From the first page, Shayne Carter‘s Dead People I Have Known invites the reader to jump right in and come along for the ride. What follows is an illuminating insight into the childhood, shaped by violence and addiction, of a boy who didn’t fit in and felt saved by music. The insider’s view of the development of the music scene in Dunedin makes a valuable contribution to the sparsely populated field of New Zealand music writing. More especially it is a fascinating look at what it means and how it feels to be a creative obsessive — pushing towards perfection despite and because of addiction, oblivion and isolation. It is rock-star writing: entertaining, revealing and incredibly heartfelt.

MitoQ Best First Book Awards

HUBERT CHURCH PRIZE FOR FICTIONAuē by Becky Manawatu (Mākaro Press) 

JESSIE MACKAY PRIZE FOR POETRY: Craven by Jane Arthur (Victoria University Press)

JUDITH BINNEY PRIZE FOR ILLUSTRATED NON-FICTIONWe Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee (Massey University Press)  

E.H. MCCORMICK PRIZE FOR GENERAL NON-FICTIONDead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (Victoria University Press)    

Saturday, 9 May 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #177 (9.5.20)

One one-hundred-and-seventy-seventh newsletter!

In our devastatingly enjoyable Book of the WeekDucks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, an Ohio mother bakes pies while the the world bombards her with radioactivity and fake facts. She worries about her children, caramelisation, chickens, guns, tardigrades, medical bills, environmental disaster, mystifying confrontations at the supermarket, and the best time to plant nasturtiums. She regrets most of her past, a million tiny embarrassments, her poverty, the loss of her mother, and the genocide on which the United States was founded. Lucy Ellmann's scorching indictment of the ills of modern life is also a plea for kindness, a remarkable virtuoso sentence, and an unforgivably funny evocation of the relentlessness of one person's thoughts. 
>>Read Thomas's review
>>Read an extract. 
>> Lucy Ellmann does not care about what male reviewers think about having to read such a long book written about a woman.
>>"I wooed my husband with Thomas Bernhard's Concrete."
>>"I don’t like overpopulation, but I have infinite respect for motherhood."
>>"All art that's any good is political." 
>>Ellmann's Irish connection
>>Ducks, Newburyport has been short-listed for the 2019 Booker Prize. Find out about the other books on the short list
>>We can send you either the Galley Beggar Press edition or the Text Publishing edition (or both). 

Patient X: The case-book of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa by David Peace      {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He was born for lock-down, he told her, and it was not until the circumstances provided themselves, as circumstances occasionally do, as they had now done, that he had realised how far short ordinary life fell of those conditions, the conditions for which he had been born, or so it seemed to him. How had he managed that ordinary life, so to call it, that ordinary life in which he had participated beforehand, at least to a small extent, he wondered, but, even more, how will he manage to return to this so-called ordinary life if this so-called ordinary life is possible again? It was true that he was not making sense, and she had little trouble convincing him of this, but this nonsense was undeniably true for a part of himself, he thought, why else would he think it, how could this part be acknowledged, how could this part be ridiculed and suppressed by the rest of himself, if it was not permitted, from time to time, to express itself as if it spoke for all of him, or in the name of him, to release the pressure of its inclinations through exaggeration and to be stilled, at least momentarily, by the deflation that follows this exaggeration? Who is it or what is it that speaks for himself? In any case, he said, already beginning to ramble, he did not experience the self as a thing, there is, in his experience, he said, no such thing as a self, excepting perhaps in the eyes of others, in the world of names, which is the same thing, there are only experiences, inclinations, images, roughly bundled by who knows what forces, adhered to each other through being pressed so hard together, or by inertia, or by their shapes, though such shapes are always figurative at best, which should be etymologically self-evident, our identities are more convenient than real, he said, what lies within their bounds must necessarily be either tedious or inconsistent. Or both. Before she had the opportunity to point out the flaws in his thinking, the tediousness and inconsistency of his thinking, the tediousness and inconsistency that were the defining characteristics of his thinking, which would at once both invalidate and prove his point, he began to move the discussion, if such a one-directional torrent of speech can be called a discussion, even euphemistically, towards the book he had been reading, Patient X, a novel, if it is a novel, or a set of stories, if we can call them that, and possibly we should call them that, by David Peace on the life of the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, or maybe that should be the lives of the writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, as here indeed is a person irreducible to a single narrative, a person who bundled his discordant parts with narrative, outsourcing his inclinations into characters, failing always to resolve the enigma of his own existence, or should I say, he said, the trauma of his own existence, a trauma being that which is irresolvable by narrative but also that toward which narrative is ineluctably drawn, but by so failing producing texts of considerable interest. “These are the narratives you tell yourself, you write yourself, you keep telling yourself, will keep writing yourself, these stories, these narratives that do not hold, which will not hold, will break apart, breaking you apart.” Peace writes Akutagawa in the third person and in the first and in the second, as fractured into stories, as seen by others, as fact, as experienced by Akutagawa himself, as he night have been if he had not been as he was. Akutagawa’s words well up throughout the text, or they are Peace’s words, if such a distinction can sensibly be made, Akutagawa’s double is Akutagawa himself, and also Peace, and neither Akutagawa nor Peace but something or someone else, there are no end of doubles. Akutagawa fears that there is another passing himself off as him, a doppelgänger that lives a life parallel to his, or lives the life that he does not live, or, if they share a life, that lives the parts of his life that he does not acknowledge, does not wish to acknowledge, cannot acknowledge. He fears that he is not himself but is a double passing himself off as him, even to himself. Of course, he told her, though she was fast developing resistance to his telling in just such a way as she had developed resistance to other forms of illness, as soon as a writer writes they create just such a doppelgänger, this is unavoidable, all literary life is doppelgänger life, and the closer to ‘actual’ life this literary doppelgänger life is, the greater the deception and the more striking, and the more disorienting the doppelgänger. In fact, he said, the word doppelgänger is only sufficient in a single instance, the cumulative effect of a life, or a literary oeuvre, each as fictional and as truthful as the other, is that of the presence and action of multiple doppelgängers, multigangers or polygangers, he wasn’t sure what to call them, existing and acting all at the same moment, thanks to literature, thanks to language, both in the past and in the present. Every character in a story is a splinter of one character. Akutagawa was fractured by fear, he was “afraid of the doors, afraid of the floors. That open, that tilt. The dust from the ceiling, the dust on the floor. Afraid of the tatami, afraid of the lamps. The old tatami, the dim lamps. Every night, every day.” He was driven mad by the fear that he would be driven mad like his mother who became mad after his birth. “The first act of the human tragedy starts when an individual becomes a child of certain parents.” Akutagawa’s resistance to life begins with his resistance to being born. He says he doesn’t want to be born “but no-one can hear you, no-one is listening to you or truly cares what you say, your words are drowned in the waters, your words are lost in the tunnel, and so, before long, the waters are breaking, and off you go, swept along, down the tunnel, through the curtains, into the room and out.” And, really, each moment is a repetition of the trauma of becoming, except in so far as we are anaesthetised through narrative, or habit, if these can be distinguished, he said, all narrative, literary or otherwise, is lived by our doppelgängers, or polygangers, there must be a better word, all life is a second-hand life, everything is experienced at a remove, all existence is an act of appropriation. Akutagawa’s resistance to “the diseases of the mind that reduce a man to a lump of flesh, plagued by delusions” reduced him to a lump of flesh, plagued by delusions, and Akutagawa ended the life of that lump, but the delusions that plagued that lump produced literature of considerable psychological insight, as well as beauty, and the same could be said of Peace’s book, he said. It is narrative, he said, though by this time she was not listening to him, he had after all never given himself the opportunity to listen to her, it is narrative, literary or otherwise, that provides the distancing from what he called, rather vaguely, existential trauma, that enables life to be lived despite such existential trauma, and the distancing of fiction is the safest form of distancing, the distancing of tense, or of point of view, of character, of narrative, or of any of the other novelistic PPE, provides the best protection, though not, as Akutagawa showed, infallible protection. Are we comfortable, though, he asked, and he was fortunate not to be expecting an answer to this question, with living at such remove? He thought perhaps we were, at least in current circumstances, or in what he termed current circumstances but which were probably circumstances that applied more particularly to himself than to any shared experience, current or otherwise, but he was not challenged for his sloppy thinking, if it could be called his own. He was not the sort of person, he said, if there in fact is such a sort, who takes refuge in the third person, I would never take refuge in the third person, he said, I always refer to myself in the first person, I take responsibility, entirely, for my opinions and for my actions, he said, by claiming them as mine, by admitting to them, no less, by referring to myself always in the first person, I do not refer to myself in the third person, I do not even attempt the pretence that I am  fictional character, he said, a fictional character hiding not only in the third person but in the past tense also, he said, the past tense is another distancing device, a fictional distancing device that I would never stoop to using when referring to myself, he said, though, now that I think about it, he thought, the first person and the present tense are no less deceptive, the first person and the present tense are also fictional devices, fictional devices that give the illusion of honesty and immediacy and are therefore even more deceptive than the third person and the past tense, where the deception is more obvious and therefore less deceptive, he thought, but naturally he did not speak these thoughts. Whether he spoke these thoughts of not made no difference, he could speak or not to an equal lack of effect, no response was forthcoming, she had long ago fallen asleep.