Sunday, November 8, 2015

New Zealand November: One Week In


Hot October: An autobiographical story by Lauris Dorothy Edmond
A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #1 by Ngaio Marsh
One Whale, Singing (Stories From New Zealand) by various authors
Wulf by Hamish Clayton

It is one week in to New Zealand November and I am making slow progress. I'm still doing more research and requesting more books from other libraries, so I may spend Thanksgiving break reading everything that comes in between now and then!

Lauris Dorothy Edmond is a well known New Zealand poet. I have some of her poetry on the way but as of right now I have not read any. She wrote a three volume autobiography, and Hot October is the first. It is the story of her childhood up through her college years, coinciding with the second world war. Because she wrote detailed and open letters to her mother, she was able to include many of them with her actual younger voice. She is a normal person but living inside a country I don't know much about, so I thought it was interesting.  When she gets to the training college, she discovers a love for the theater, and encounters Ngaio Marsh who comes through as a guest instructor. (You can read more in my review.)

Ngaio Marsh is a well-loved crime writer from New Zealand, but most of her books are set in London. Her Inspector Roderick Alleyn series seem (from the first one, A Man Lay Dead) to be a traditional whodunit along the lines of Agatha Christie. The one I read had quite a few over the top characters and hidden clues, but not a lot of New Zealand to it.

I read the first few stories from One Whale, Singing - the stories are good and I'm starting to see what New Zealand literature has as themes. I will wait to really weigh in until later, but the publisher is about putting out literature by women, so most of the stories (if not all) are by female authors.

I'm about 100 pages into Wulf. Here's the publisher's summary:
Early nineteenth century New Zealand the great chief Te Rauparaha has conquered tiny Kapiti Island, from where Ngati Toa launches brutal attacks on its southern enemies. Off the coast of Kapiti, English trader John Stewart seeks to trade with Te Rauparaha, setting off a train of events that forever change the course of New Zealand history. Narrated by two English sailors on board Stewart's ship, these events are also eerily resonant of a more distant memory, stretching back into mythology, of the charismatic leader Wulf and an ancient lament. History, it seems, may be repeating itself.
What the description does not say is that the novel is also an homage to Beowulf, and written in an incredibly lyric style. Despite reading Beowulf several times in school, I'm not sure I have it internalized enough to see all the parallels. It does seem to also capture a specific moment in time - the first English settlers/invaders of New Zealand, which is probably the farthest back of any of the New Zealand novels that I have. It will be interesting to see where the author takes it.

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