Madwomen and attics – WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

It was a dark, but not a stormy, night at the Arts Centre last Wednesday, when four mysterious black-clad ladies entered the room. With flickering candles held aloft, they took their places on the stage for an evening of great hair, literary tropes and another chapter in the ongoing battle between Team Rochester and Team Heathcliff (*).

There was no attempt at cool professionalism, as our panellists to a man woman unashamedly confessed their enduring love for that most passionate of genres, the Gothic novel. And the audience was right there with them – many of us had been present earlier in the evening for an outstanding performance of Jane Eyre by Rebecca Vaughan of Dyad Productions.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey, and Moata Tamaira

With chair Rachael King guiding the discussion, we heard from an actor, a novelist and a librarian as they each confessed to teenage years spent wafting about in nighties and imagining themselves in the arms of a dark and brooding hero of uncertain temperament. Rebecca Vaughan had of course literally just come from her performance as Jane Eyre, while Karen Healey and Rachael King have both written novels with a strong Gothic flavour themselves (if you have not read Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead, or Rachael King’s Magpie Hall, I beseech you most strongly to do so at once). And our very own Moata Tamaira has never been afraid to profess herself as a fan of all things Gothic.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey, and Moata Tamaira

The evening’s discussion ranged from the literary – Gothic tropes in literature and film; to the awesomely ridiculous – a slideshow quiz where every answer was Wuthering Heights. We contemplated the various forms of Heathcliff in multiple movie castings (Tom Hardy a clear winner here, although this possibly was rigged by chair Rachael); and slipped sideways into a robust conversation about whether Wide Sargasso Sea had altered anyone’s perceptions of Mr Rochester (is it a true prequel? an early form of fan-fic homage? a completely separate stand-alone story?). I was waiting for someone to mention my own personal fave Jane Eyre “character” Thursday Next, from the Eyre Affair series, but perhaps that’s making things a little too tangled even for this panel and audience.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey

Finishing with a glorious set of illustrations from pulp fiction novels of the ’60s and ’70s, featuring women with great hair running from Gothic houses (credit to this magnificent blog), we were then sent out into the moonlit surrounds of the oh-so-Gothic Arts Centre, I think each with a new commitment to go back and re-read ALL our favourite Gothic novels. Possibly while dressed in wafty white nighties and floating about on the nearest moor.

Christchurch Arts Centre

(* Of COURSE it’s Team Rochester, all the way)

 

Recent Reads: Young Adult fiction

I’d be the first to admit I judge books by their covers all the time, but sometimes the blurb is so compelling I have to try the first chapter anyway. Such was the case with Noteworthy, a book with a deceptively bland cover much like the author’s previous book, Seven Ways We Lie. I mean, look at them! A+ for colour-matching but C- for covers that don’t match the content:

Cover of Noteworthy by Riley RedgateCover of Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

Actually don’t look at them, just open them up and start reading instead, because listen to the description of Noteworthy:

After learning that her deep voice is keeping her from being cast in plays at her exclusive performing arts school, Jordan Sun, junior, auditions for an all-male octet hoping for a chance to perform internationally.

I didn’t realise I needed a book about a girl going undercover in an all-male a cappella group, but I definitely did. The blurb doesn’t mention it but she auditions and spends much of the book passing as a teenage boy and (against her first inclinations) becoming friends with the other members of the group. The author describes her book as “approx. 1/3 slapstick comedy, 1/3 hideous music puns, and 1/3 explorations of toxic masculinity and performative femininity,” which is fairly accurate, so if you’re a fan of puns and a cappella and figuring out who you are while pretending to be someone you aren’t, then give Noteworthy a try. If you want something a bit darker with a larger cast of characters, each based loosely on one of the seven sins, then try Seven Ways We Lie.

Cover of Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue is the most recent novel by Julie Murphy, whose book Dumplin’ I enjoyed last year. They have similar themes of teenage girls in small towns trying to be confident in who they are while suffering from crippling doubts, but where Dumplin’s self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean deals with this by entering the local beauty pageant, Ramona Blue is aggressively happy to stay living in a trailer with her dad and supporting her pregnant sister, definitely isn’t frustrated that she can’t go to college, definitely isn’t upset that her summer girlfriend has gone back home to her boyfriend.

In the middle of all this Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie moves back into town and they start swimming at the local pool, which Ramona turns out to be rather good at, and maybe also start having feelings for each other, but that can’t be right because Ramona has always known she was gay, hasn’t she? And she still likes girls, so what’s going on? Spoiler! it’s the elusive bisexual, now captured in fiction. I was worried when I realised the direction the book was going in but it was handled really well, and is only one strand of Ramona’s complex story.

Cover of Allegedly by Tiffany D. JacksonIf that’s still too light-hearted for you then maybe you’ll appreciate Tiffany D. Jackson’s grim debut, Allegedly.

Inspired by a similar case in Maine five years ago, Allegedly is told from the perspective of the now sixteen-year-old girl (Mary) convicted of manslaughter of a white infant when she was only nine. Her case is famous; books have been written, a film is in the works, and at the time of her trial the public were pushing for the death penalty. Eight years later she’s living in a group home while attempting to study for her SATs despite the interference of the women who run the home and the other girls living in it — while newly pregnant. The discovery that the authorities will take away her baby when he’s born prompts Mary to re-open her case, declaring she has been innocent all along. Was she? Or is she just doing whatever it takes to keep her unborn child?

The Return of the She Devil

It has been 34 years since readers last heard from Fay Weldon’s infamous creation – Ruth Patchett, the ultimate she devil. Now in 2017, Ruth has returned. She is 84 years of age, now a dame, and a president for the institute for gender parity.

Her children have (unsurprisingly) not spoken to her for many years. Her husband now lives as a ‘guest’ in the high tower and suffers from dementia (though, as his carer observes, he still recognises his wife well enough and possesses the unfortunate gift of the foul-mouthed gab). The ghost of Mary Fisher haunts the high tower observing the politics and shenanigans of Ruth’s institute.

Death of a she devil

It seems that Ruth Patchett has indeed reached the end of the road. The ambitious Valerie Valeria, a relative newcomer to the institute, feels she is more than ready to take over the she devil’s mantle. This seems inevitable, until the appearance of Tyler, a young, attractive, twenty something — and the she devil’s grandson.

The ultimate down-trodden male, Tyler has suffered much — his mother is quick to remind him that, had she known he was going to be a boy, she would have aborted him. His sisters have ‘sharp elbows’ too and take daily delight in attacking his masculinity; and worst of all, as a man Tyler is unemployable and must stand passively back while woman take all the good jobs.

When Tyler eventually meets the she devil and it is proposed he transform himself into a woman to become her heir, Tyler concludes that he has nothing to lose and  everything to gain. It is a weird and wonderful story that promises to provide Weldon with plenty of hilarious ammunition, but I found this sequel to have all the weird of its predecessor ‘Life and Loves of A She Devil’ but a lot less of its wonderful. In place of Weldon’s usual sharp, effortless satire there is an overuse of  jarring obscenities, and while there were a couple of small twists along the way, I felt the attempted build up and climax to be lacking.

CoverHowever fans of Life and Loves will certainly appreciate the reappearance of characters from Weldon’s beloved original  who have aged exactly as readers would imagine. Even in her 80s, Ruth remains every bit the atrocious, scheming she devil; Mary makes for the ultimate ostentatious ghost, and Bobbo is all too believable as the foul-mouthed, utterly unlovable old man.

While many critics have also described Weldon’s gender politics as being ‘confused’, I found her narrative to be reflective of the confusing gender politics of our times, and full of Weldon’s wicked sense of humour. There are no heroes to be found in this novel — Weldon targets smug, ambitious feminists in the guise of Valerie Valeria, who really seems to have confused and indeed the forgotten all about the feminist message. Tyler/Tayla is portrayed as a spineless, unthinking vehicle for Valerie Valeria’s ambitious schemes, and the she devil herself remains the dreadful monster we have come to know from Life and Loves.

While less accomplished than her other works, there is a lot to enjoy in Weldon’s latest novel. If you are interested in the theme of gender wars or just have a great appetite for the absurd then don’t hesitate to pick this up. With Fay Weldon, you are always guaranteed an entertaining and utterly original ride.

Death of a She Devil
by Fay Weldon
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781784979607

Find more books by Fay Weldon in our collection.

Helen

Seeing Red

CoverLife dealt me the recessive gene MC1R (only achievable through both sides of the family) and I arrived with a ‘reddish’ hue to my hair – together with the obligatory pale skin and, a few years later, a mass of freckles.  I managed to avoid the ‘Tudor’ blue eyes so I actually have discernible eyebrows.  Phew…

When I found this book on the shelf recently it screamed ‘Read Me, Read Me’.  So I did.

What a revelation!  Little did I know about my heritage and what different cultures felt about my red/auburn/ginger ancestors and modern-day counterparts.

Stereotypes of redheaded women range from the fun-loving scatterbrain to the fiery-tempered vixen or the penitent prostitute. Red-haired men are often associated with either the savage barbarian or the redheaded clown.

I’ve never been a great fan of ‘stereotyping’ and especially not of this negative variety.  My only negativity was related to the pitfalls endured on summer holidays where I always ended up swimming in more clothes than I normally wore, in addition to ‘slip, slap & slopping’ in a frenzy and still missing bits that needed TLC in the evening by use of cotton wool balls and calamine lotion. All this angst whilst my so-called friends gambolled and frolicked in the surf like slippery little seals and acquired golden overtones by the minute!

CoverAnne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables was one of my childhood heroines (for obvious reasons) and when she finally walloped Gilbert Blythe for pulling her pigtail and teasing her mercilessly – OK so she might have been fiery but he certainly had it coming!!

Maureen O’Hara was famous for her fiery nature and red hair in the films but she always had to endure John Wayne – so who wouldn’t want to vent their spleen!  Can you see where I am going with this – provocation.  Tease a blonde, brunette and any other hair colour under the sun and you would get the same result.

CoverDwelling in the past isn’t good for you so I quickly read on and sure enough, there were also positives such as redheads being considered the darlings of the Renaissance period.  Acclaimed artists such as Degas, Titian and Rossetti couldn’t do without their favourite ‘red-haired’ muses – the first one of note and possibly the first supermodel of her time being Elizabeth Siddal.

I was unaware that many differing cultures to mine (Northern Hemisphere Celt) such as Russian, Italian, Chinese and even some Pacific Islanders also have the recessive gene that sits on Chromosone 16.

But true amazement came in the form of googling – apparently there is Calendar of Redhead Events, Ginger Pride Rallies all over the world and Melbourne has been voted as Host City for the 2017 Ginger Pride Rally which is being held on 29 April – the event raising funds and awareness for, both children’s anti-bullying and skin cancer non-for-profits.

That’s more like it – Go The Reds!!

Do you judge a book by its cover?

9780356505381Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, right? But we do, of course. I mean, when you’re browsing the library shelves, it’s the cover that attracts you to a book, isn’t it? I’ve heard that you’re supposed to read to page 90 (!) of a book before you decide if you should read it, but I sure don’t have time for that!

So anyway, when I saw Resistance is Futile the other day, I was sure this was just the book for me. Anyone who’s read my blog posts before will know that I’m a bit of a Star Trek nerd (just a wee bit!) so I was really excited to read this geeky love story with a Trek reference in the title. It looked like it was going to be the perfect read.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t any good–I enjoyed it well enough–it just wasn’t what the cover had lead me to believe. I was expecting a kind of Rosie Project-ish story, but with a geek-girl protagonist and a few Star Trek references thrown in. But what I got, was an X-Files-ish murder-mystery-come-alien-romance story. There was not so much as a single “Beam me up, Scotty” or “Live long and prosper” to be had. I think there might have been a vague reference to the Prime Directive on page 265. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws.

Of course, sometimes it’s the other way around.

Cover of The Round House by Louise ErdrichWhen I read the blurb of The Round House by Louise Erdrich (“A mother is brutally raped by a man on the North Dakota reservation where she lives… Traumatized and afraid, she takes to her bed and refuses to talk to anyone – including the police…”) I groaned inwardly. “Who chooses these books anyway?” I grumbled. But it was for book club, so I had to at least attempt to read it. Grudgingly I began…

…and instead of the abhorrent, disturbing tale I was expecting, I discovered an arresting, thought provoking story of a young man’s search for justice for his mother. Although the story was often upsetting, it was not gratuitous. I learnt fascinating and shocking things about life on a Native American reservation. I was amazed that Erdrich, a (then) 57 year old woman, could create a teenage-boy-character so utterly believable and real as Joe. I laughed at the oddball characters of his extended family. And I cried as the conclusion approached, knowing, without knowing, what was about to happen.

And… I reveled in Joe’s love of Star Trek! Both for its own sake, and because it was so unexpected! Joe and his friends idolised the super-strong, fully-functional android Data; they wanted to be Worf, the Klingon warrior* (they were also Star Wars fans, of course–but I forgave them). A few chapters in, I suddenly realised that each chapter shared its title with an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (yes, I am that much of a Trekkie that I know the titles of the episodes, and I only had to check the synopsis of a couple of them to be sure what they were about). I then had a sudden desire to watch all those episodes, and analyse the connections with each chapter. In fact, I found myself wanting to write whole essays on this book. Back in the dim reaches of history, I actually did a degree in English. I was even invited to do Honours (though I didn’t, for reasons which I’ve now forgotten). I loved studying, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book since that I so wanted to write academic essays about. The more I think about it, the more I think this book deserves the “Missbeecrafty Best Book” award. I’m sure that’s almost as prestigious as the American National Book Award for Fiction which it actually won in 2012.

Literary prize winning books aren’t for everyone, I know, but don’t judge this book on its prize-winning-ness. And don’t judge it on it’s Trekkie-ness! If you’re not a Star Trek fan, don’t worry, I’ve read a bunch of reviews, and hardly anyone else seems to have even noticed it, and they still loved it. And don’t judge it by its cover, either!

Just read it.

*I always had a soft spot for Data myself. And Worf too, once the make-up department gave him a decent hair do.

 

Christmas on Zinio

Read Christmas issue eMagazines on the go – Check out the titles available via Zinio.

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Best of 2016 – Staff Pickles

Our team of Staff Pickles pick their faves of the year:

Alina

Alina

Alison

Alison

Dan

Dan

Donna

Donna

Joyce

Joyce

Katherine

Katherine

Moata

Moata

Roberta

Roberta

Memoir, biography and non-fiction

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The Villa at the Edge of the Empire. One Hundred Ways to Read a City by Fiona Farrell (Bronwyn’s pick)
100 tiny pieces of perfect writing about the city we live in.

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts Joshua Harmer (Donna’s pick)
This is the true story of manuscripts gathered in Timbuktu, Mali & how they are threatened when jihadis take over the city. This is an utterly brilliantly told story about brave and bold librarians and citizens. Better than any thriller.

The Seven Good Years Etgar Keret (Dan’s pick)
The best autobiography I’ve ever and am ever likely to read!

Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science and Love Hope Jaren (Alison’s pick)
It is an awesome biography about a woman who loves trees, and her science-soulmate assistant Bill who used to live in a hole. They’re both incredible stranger-than-fiction characters, both passionate about science, both with a few tips about how to be very, very poor and still manage to run a lab. Stories of plants echo events in her own life – growth and roots, pollination and sex, endurance and survival. This one’s inspiring, fascinating and very well written.

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Watching and listening

Black Lotus Shogun Orchestra (Music) (Dan’s pick)
Such groove & feel, almost reminiscent of Mulatu Astatke.

45 Years (Film) (Robyn’s pick)
Ultra-jumbo sized box of tissues required but worth the pain.

Orange is the New Black (TV series) (Robyn’s pick)
Came late to it but love it – highly addictive. Great performances, great stories, Piper is mad annoying but perhaps that’s quite accurate. And she’s in the background more as the series progresses.

Fortitude (TV series) (Dan’s pick)
Cool Scandi-Crime drama.

Fiction

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The Vet’s daughter Barbara Comyns (Joyce’s pick)
Written in the 1950s this slim volume is domestic, sinister and soaked in sadness. Alice is the vet’s daughter and a very unhappy creature. As her life takes turn after turn for the worst she literally starts to untether. Weird but wonderful.

My struggle Book Three: Boyhood Karl Ove Knausgaard (Robyn’s pick)
This is my best book of the year so far, just as Book One, A death in the Family, and Book Two, A Man in Love were my best books of the year I read them in. I have to be on holiday to read them because once you start you cannot stop. I am not a man and I am not Norwegian and I am not a genius (and I think I’m a lot nicer person than Karl) but I have felt every emotion he describes, I just wouldn’t be able to express my feelings with such incredible skill.

American Gods Neil Gaiman (Bronwyn’s pick)
Re-re-reading this fabulous tale in preparation for the upcoming TV miniseries (so I can be all showy-offy when it’s on …)

Speak Louisa Hall (Joyce’s pick)
Humanity’s relationship with technology is told through a variety of narrators in this complex but gripping novel. Alan Turing, a Seventeenth century pilgrim girl, a robot and a variety of imagined scientists narrate their hopes and dreams of connection to the past, present and each other. Poetic and profound I so much wanted Mary Bradford travelling across the waves to her new life in the Americas to be real. Beautiful.

The Broken Earth series N K Jemisin (Alison’s pick)
The Obelisk Gate because it was a stunning sequel to The Fifth Season, delving deeper into the way this fantasy world works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be, as this world is intrinsically broken) full of tragedy, hidden histories, desperate grasps at survival, and utterly fantastic powerful women.

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More of the best

Best book covers of 2016 – My pick of New Zealand’s finest

2016 has seen the publication of a bunch of great and interesting New Zealand books, with plenty of strikingly attractive covers. Here are my picks for New Zealand’s best book covers of the year:

Number one is Mansfield and me: A graphic memoir by Sarah Laing, published by Victoria University Press. The cover, as drawn by Sarah, is a thing of beauty. It also draws you into the compelling counterpointing of Sarah and Katherine Mansfield – the very heart of the book.

mansfield_and_me_final_cover__50890-1467692638-1280-1280

Here’s what Sarah had to say about her cover design:

It’s quite a different proposition designing your own book cover as opposed to designing for others. I had a couple of other options but it was pretty easy to settle on the one I liked the most. I took Mansfield’s profile from a famous 1915 photograph, and tried to draw my own to match it. I wanted to echo the vase/profile illusion, and also to have us facing each other, when, in so much of the book, our stories run in parallel. Later in the book, Katherine and I share a cup of coffee, and I used to print from my coffee cup as a motif in the background.

Katherine Mansfield. Ref: 1/2-003106-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23065921
Katherine Mansfield. Ref: 1/2-003106-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23065921

A close runner up is Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays by Ashleigh Young. It’s also published by Victoria University Press. The difficult second cover on Ashleigh’s blog Eyelash Roaming explains how the cover came to be:

Well, for my second book, I asked Elliot Elam to draw me a picture, though I didn’t know what the picture should be … Maybe more importantly, a stranger is picked out of the anonymous crowd and made knowable. Without getting too lofty… in a way that’s what I wanted to do with this book of essays: attempt an impression of things that otherwise would have rushed by.

Can you tolerate this?

Bronze medal goes to Hera Lindsay Bird’s eponymous book of poetry. An interview with Hera by Ellen Falconer in The Wireless has a bit about how that distinctive cover came to be:

Ashleigh Young [my editor] has a friend called Russell Kleyn who is a really great photographer and she set me up with him. I had quite a different idea; I have quite a funny portrait of myself and I wanted a really Dorian Gray thing, where there was a portrait of me holding a dorky portrait of myself, but it actually didn’t turn out that well.

He saw this yellow raincoat in this weird attic I was living in and he just wanted to take a few photos of that, so it was kind of a random shot. But I really like the way it turned out and that it obscures my face. What I told him was that I kind of wanted [it to have] an Yvonne Todd vibe about it – feminine but also a bit creepy and off.

Hera Lindsay Bird

Fergus Barrowman, VUP publishers comments on the triple victory:

The books make the covers (that is, if the books weren’t great and successful no one would be noticing the covers); all three were ferociously art-directed by the authors with only gentle pressure from the publisher.

So my three picks for best book covers also happen to be books I loved inside and out. They also are all published by Victoria University Press. So I think I can officially say it – VUP gives good cover. They have cannily produced postcards to show off them fine looking jackets. Next stop, VUP badges and tshirts??

More standout covers from 2016

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Cool covers for kids

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Special mentions

Let’s take a walk

C1 Book launch
Artwork from Let’s take a walk

A Christchurch book that deserves a special mention is a picture book produced by C1Espresso, and edited by owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey. Let’s take a walk looks at Christchurch places before and after the earthquakes. It was written by Nicole Phillipson, and the exquisite illustrations are by Hannah Beehre. The design and layout – with all its fascinating fold outs – is by Alec Bathgate & Tahlia Briggs.

Have a read of Moata’s interview with Sam Crofskey about this poignant pop-up book.

Gecko Annual

The cover of the Gecko annual is a zingy orange red with a dash of gold on the cover. But it’s the contents that are a symphony of beaut design work. Have a look at Kim’s blog post for some pics from inside the annual. It’s a stunner.

Best book covers of previous years

For more book cover and design, see the PANZ Book Design Awards.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Longlist 2017

It’s out. The longlist for New Zealand’s most prestigious book award. Plenty of options here for reading over the summer months. A shortlist for the awards will be announced in March next year and the winners in May.

Ready, set, make your reserves.

Fiction

Cover of The Wish Child Cover of Love as a stranger Cover of Tail of the taniwha Cover of My mother and the Hungarians Cover of Billy Bird Cover of Deleted scenes for lovers Cover of The name on the door is not mine Cover of Dad art Cover of Strip

Poetry

Cover of Back with the human condition Cover of Fale Aitu: Spirit House Cover of Hera Lindsay Bird Cover of In the supplementary garden Cover of Thought horses Cover of As the verb tenses Cover of Fits & starts Cover of This paper boat Cover of And so it is Cover of Beside herself

Illustrated Non-fiction

Cover of Mansfield and me Cover of New Zealand wine Cover of A beautiful hesitation Cover of Futuna: Life of a building Cover of A whakapapa of tradition Cover of Bloomsbury South Cover of 101 works of art Cover of A history of New Zealand women Cover of Ann Shelton: Dark matter

General Non-Fiction

Cover of Can you tolerate this? Cover of This model world Cover of Big smoke Cover of Being Chinese Cover of The great war for New Zealand Cover of The world, the flesh and the Devil Cover of My father's island Cover of New Zealand's rivers: An environmental history Cover of The broken decade

See previous winners of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.