Scoop Review of Books

Archive for November, 2013

The human element

Wake by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)
Reviewed by Patrick Kenzie

WAKE_F__21284.1376861569.220.220Wake will change the way you look at small towns forever.

Elizabeth Knox’s horror story weaves several approaches to the genre into its narrative, all set in and around the fictional town of Kahukura. In the course of one bloody afternoon, normality disappears in a wave of madness and death. In the middle of it all are a small-town cop and 13 other survivors who, for one reason or another, are immune from whatever is causing the insanity around them.

The first 70 pages describe some of the most shocking scenes I’ve read in any novel, and one sequence in particular stands out as particularly brutal. While the initial carnage is astonishing in its harshness, the rest of the book evolves into a very different kind of horror story. The survivors have to learn to live with each other and try to hold out hope for the future despite being hopelessly alone, locked in with a madness monster that would give H.P Lovecraft nightmares. As the back cover of Wake says: “With an invisible monster you never know when you’re in danger and when you’re safe – if you retreat to your fortress you can’t be sure you haven’t locked it in with you”. Read more »

Cool cats, Cuba-style

Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats by Anna Fienberg & Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

imageThe Cool Cats band from Cuba has taken over the Crocodile Café featured in the first Figaro and Rumba book, but the fun goes on – and the music keeps playing. Adventure follows adventure and suspense is sustained in this musical melodrama about Figaro, a lovable drummer dog, and his singer-composer friend Rumba the cat. I read it to my twin grandchildren, almost seven, who couldn’t wait for each instalment. One had started reading it to himself, but asked me to help as he was so eager to race through the six chapters. His sister wanted it read out to ensure a quicker arrival at a happy ending.
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One to treasure

Rivers: New Zealand’s Shared Legacy by David Young (Random House, $59.99)
Reviewed by Jim Robinson

rivers“Our connection as a nation to the river is deep, complex and fundamental,” writes David Young at the opening of this truly excellent book. “It is about both sheen and layers, identity and belonging, mystery and utility, constancy and volatility; it can be sensual, fun and romantic, but also brutal and dark.”

After reading the next 300 or so pages, you’d be hard pushed to deny it. Young roams 11 of New Zealand’s great rivers, from the Rakaia to the Rangitikei, Whanganui to Waikato, Manawatu to Motu. Along the way, he explores the people and places, the kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and the science, the history and the opportunities. Eels, whio (blue ducks), rafting, bridging, damming, irrigation, erosion, dairying, and way more is delved into. So many issues. So many layers of connection.
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A Feat of the Imagination

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Hutchinson, $37.99)
Reviewed by C P Howe

NightFilmNight Film is Marisha Pessl’s second novel, and it is a richly entertaining read, although this experience feels like more than just reading. Pessl takes what might be called a trope – a combination of characters and their surroundings that feel very familiar – and does something spectacular with it. She has created a layered thriller that keeps you wondering, and exploring, well after the last page has been turned.

At the heart of Night Film is the reclusive horror film director Stanislas Cordova. Only those who’ve had direct contact with him know what he looks like. Photographs in the media or on the internet may or may not be him. Pessl has echoed Roeg, Hitchcock, Polanski, Cassavetes and others to create a character who is familiar yet unknown, and taken it to extremes. Readers will find themselves wishing – hoping, even – that he really existed – even though, if he did, they may never have dared see one of his films.
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The Sketching of a Poet’s Life

Sylvia Plath: Drawings introduced by Frieda Hughes (Faber 2013)

Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Sylvia Plath: famous as a poet, a poet’s wife, and for taking her own life, but never famous for her artwork. Two years ago, 44 of her drawings were exhibited in London’s Mayor Gallery and all but one sold, the drawing of Ted Hughes being withdrawn from sale by Plath and Hughes’ daughter Frieda. It’s these 44 drawings that compose this book, edited and introduced by Frieda, who writes a fair three-page summary of Plath’s sketching and drawing life, saying “art was always an important element of my mother’s life”.
The drawings, most of them dated (1955-1957), are mainly illustrative style pen and ink sketches presented in four sections relating to the countries of their execution: England, France, Spain and the USA. The first section starts with a letter from Plath to husband Ted, the next two with a letter to her mother, the final section with a journal entry; only the latter does not mention her drawing, although it has plenty of word pictures for story ideas.
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