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Archive for June, 2012

Review of The Man From Primrose Lane By James Renner

The Man From Primrose Lane By James Renner (The Text Publishing Company, $37)
Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

In the opening of this book – a grisly and strange murder is being investigated. True crime writer, David Neff is locked in grief after the suicide of his wife then a friend tries to interest him in investigating the grisly murder and soon, against his better judgement, Neff gets enmeshed in the unravelling of the crime. What begins as a seemingly straightforward crime novel plot soon becomes a confusing, yet exhilarating labyrinth…a kind of ‘Russian Doll’ of a plot where you are not quite sure which layer of the narrative you are being shown.

This book is a real challenge to review, because to discuss the plot too much will spoil the surprising and genre-bending elements of the book for the reader. The marketing of this book is interesting. My review copy came with a statement from the author, of which I’m not sure it helps or hinders the experience of reading the book….Renner (more or less) encourages the reader to google him and hints at the idea this fictional book may contain some elements of non-fiction. What a tease! Renner, like the book’s protaganist, is a true crime writer. Read more »

Review of The Cove By Ron Rash

The Cove By Ron Rash (The Text Publishing Company, $37)
Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

Ron Rash visited New Zealand earlier this year as part of Wellington Writers and Readers Week. A friend of mine who attended his sessions spoke of his palpable passion for conveying place in his writing and how place is almost the central ‘character’. For Rash, his ‘place’ is Appalachia in the United States of America. His previous novel, ‘Serena’ was set there, as is this new novel, ‘The Cove’.

Siblings Laurel and Hank Shelton live in ‘the cove’ of the book’s title. A dank and barren place, locals believe it is haunted and treat the disfigured Laurel as a witch. Hank has recently returned as an amputee from World War One. The pair struggle to make something of themselves and their seemingly doomed land against enormous odds. One day, Laurel discovers a mute and injured man in the cove;as he slowly heals, he becomes part of life on the farm and brings much hope to Laurel’s bleak life. Things are not as simple as they seem, however – the stranger possesses a past that has dramatic ramifications on the future of the Sheltons. Read more »

Review of Zen Under Fire: A New Zealand Woman’s Story of Love and War in Afghanistan By Marianne Elliott

Zen Under Fire: A New Zealand Woman’s Story of Love and War in Afghanistan By Marianne Elliott (Penguin, $34.99)
Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

The first day Human Rights worker, Marianne Elliott is left alone in charge of the Herat United Nations office where she works, a local tribal leader is assassinated. She must defuse the tense situation to avoid widespread bloodshed…and this is just the beginning of her many intense experiences in Afghanistan.

Marianne Elliott is a brave and intrepid woman, willing to put her own life at risk to help others and pursue her strong beliefs in human rights. It’s impossible to have anything but admiration for her courage as this memoir progresses and because she is a New Zealander, she acts as a window or a lens through which the New Zealand reader can see Afghanistan and understand it more thoroughly than any amount of news bulletins could convey. Read more »

Post-Pop: The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years by Greil Marcus and Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its own Past by Simon Reynolds

The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years by Greil Marcus (Faber and Faber 2011)
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Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its own Past by Simon Reynolds (Faber and Faber 2011)
Reviewed by Bill Nelson

“…there’s a lift in Jim Morrison’s voice for the first two times he reaches for the word fire…always he communicates that as an idea that word is new to him…You’ve heard the word in the song, but you haven’t begun to follow the fire as far as it goes – that’s the feeling.”

The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years by Greil Marcus

As teenager in the 1990s I can testify to the enduring relevance of The Doors. Even if now I hardly give them a second thought, for a few mean years of my own they were everything to me – moody, complicated (so I thought) and subversive. Looking back now it must have been the release of the Oliver Stone film a few years before that brought them to the cultural attention of pimply teens like myself, but at the time it seemed like every generation must have been into The Doors, that was how awesome and eternal they were.
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Review of Your Unselfish Kindness – Robin Hyde’s Autobiographical Writings

Your Unselfish Kindness – Robin Hyde’s Autobiographical Writings, edited by Mary Edmond-Paul (Otago University Press 2012)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington


New Zealand writer Robin Hyde is perhaps best known – if at all – as a poet. In her short lifetime (33 years) she also wrote short stories, documentary novels such as Passport to Hell (1936), and autobiographical fiction such as The Godwits Fly (1938).

Here’s a precursor to most of that: a well -chosen menu of mainly unpublished writings from one of New Zealand’s first good writers – and thinkers. Hyde’s 1934 autobiography, encouraged as therapy by the kindly Dr Gilbert Tothill, and the 1935 journal are interspersed with journal fragments, a short story and an essay on mental health. Although Robin Hyde the poet is evident in the autobiography, it is in fact her first long prose piece. Painstakingly researched and heavily footnoted by Massey academic Mary Edmond-Paul, the introduction is scholarly work. This fulsome background to Iris Wilkinson/Robin Hyde and her circumstances is a substantial entree to what we really came to the table for. Read more »

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