Are we not witty and intelligent?

Making books go beep this afternoon in my wee library, I happened to catch a few lines of a back cover publisher’s blurb.  I had a bit of a rant a few weeks ago about blurbs, and Jane’s recent post about New Zealand writing has also occasioned lots of comments.  This one has really left me scratching my head, so I’m sharing with you.

Thing is, I’m not actually going to tell you the name of the book, or the author, but I AM going to copy out the offending sentence from the back cover.  Because I think I kind of feel insulted – on behalf of New Zealand authors, at least.  I think.  Unless I should feel proud that we DO produce good writers.  I’m confused.

Note that I am not in any way questioning the quality of the book itself, and in fact when I was waving it around another librarian said that it WAS in fact a beautifully written and fabulous book – so good that she went and bought her own copy after reading it in the library.

Read the blurb yourself, and let me know what you think.  And for an extra challenge, identify the book and the author.

These are glimpses from the memoir of a distinguished senior civil servant written in a tradition of wit, elegance, learning and intelligence more familiar in Europe than in New Zealand’s own literary history …

10 thoughts on “Are we not witty and intelligent?

  1. Roy 20 March 2012 / 9:10 am


    You might as well write “this is a pretentious and snobby book best read by people who think they’re better than the mere colonials around them”.

  2. Vanessaccl 20 March 2012 / 9:14 am

    Can’t resist a challenge! Is it Final Approaches by Gerald Hensley?

    • bronnypop 20 March 2012 / 10:00 am

      Chocolate fish for you, my dear! (metaphorical, not literal, sorry)

  3. Laraine 20 March 2012 / 9:29 am

    I love Roy’s comment above. It needs nothing adding to it except that New Zealand publishers seem to ENCOURAGE writing that is pretentious and snobby. When I downloaded and read some of the winning entries in the Katherine Mansfield Award a few years ago pretentious writing is all I found. Not to mention that I didn’t find ONE proper story. It’s supposed to be a short story competition, so submissions that read like (for instance) “a slice of life”, an essay or an excerpt from a diary should automatically be disqualified. By the way, I thought a “blurb” was supposed to be a paragraph or two telling readers what the book is about, not commenting on the quality of the writing. Could you please tell us the name of the book and the publisher so we can send protests? I find it so offensive I want to tell the publishers what I think of them for allowing this line to be on the book, especially in such a prominent position

  4. Sarah 20 March 2012 / 9:36 am

    Sounds like a bit of a thriller really “Robert Muldoon in swimming shorts under a palm tree in Kiribati”.

    Someone is a bit incecure here, does the Auckland University Press think they’re not taken seriously?

  5. bronnypop 20 March 2012 / 9:58 am

    Ooh, cat among pigeons, and all that. Glad to hear I am not the only one with an unreasonable knee-jerk negative reaction. I’d better just stress again though that the book itself comes highly recommended by a friend – it’s just the back cover that manages to upset everyone who reads it!

    • Laraine 20 March 2012 / 1:56 pm

      Please deluge the publisher with outraged protests. They deserve it. You can write to them or do what I did–use their email address (well, the only one I could find on their site). It is

      If that doesn’t elicit some sort of knee-jerk reaction from them, I will put it in a letter.

      And BTW for most of my working life I was also a public servant (or civil servant as the book so snobbishly puts it) and Mr Henley’s name meant nothing to me. Mind you, there was no reason for the departments I worked for to having anything to do with either the Prime Minister’s department or the Ministry of Defence (or whatever it was called in those days).

  6. Marion 20 March 2012 / 8:53 pm

    Perhaps we should celebrate unpretentious New Zealand writers who write of us and for us. How about John A Lee? His Children of the Poor still resonates today. How about Ronald Morrieson? What would the blurbs on his books say? “What can you say about this – idunno – o wait this book will be made into a film starring Billy T ” or “everyone quotes the opening lines – cool”

  7. El Rico Grande 23 March 2012 / 12:25 pm

    I don’t know about you, Lady B, but I’m not very elegant.

    • bronnypop 23 March 2012 / 12:36 pm

      Three out of four’s not too bad, though, is it?

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