New Zealand fiction? I just don’t like it!

“No, I don’t read New Zealand fiction”

Having heard this over and over again I thought I would ask a few people why not?

It’s all dark and gloomy.

It tries too hard.

Most of our writers come out of that Bill Manhire course, and then they all write the same.

Crime fiction set in Christchurch? Those sort of things might happen in somewhere like Los Angeles, but it’s just silly to set it here.

It’s just a bit … well, I don’t know – I just don’t like it.

So much for the scientific survey, I am none the wiser.

CoverCultural cringe is something that has always dogged the New Zealand arts. The visual arts seem to have found a place in recent years, but New Zealand fiction is still out in the cold. A colleague suggested it might be because there is not enough popular genre fiction written, she cited the success of Jenny Pattrick’s historical saga series Denniston Rose, and maybe she has a point?

I have certainly read plenty of New Zealand fiction – some I’ve liked, some I haven’t. Surely it is the same when reading any book – some get discarded others become lifelong treasures. For some reason though, when a New Zealand book doesn’t quite come up to scratch it is a slight that cannot be forgiven or forgotten. Are our expectations too high?

My interviewees did say that they liked Shonagh Koea as she has something original to say, Settlers Creek by Carl Nixon also made the cut and the earlier Witi Ihimaera. La Rochelle Road by Tanya Moir was also mentioned – Historical fiction set on the Banks Peninsula. “A very nice read” apparently. High praise indeed!