Scoop Review of Books

Archive for October, 2015

Origins of His Art

Zizz! The life and art of Len Lye in his own words
with Roger Horrocks (Awa Press, $30)
Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke

Zizz High Res

‘Zizz’ was one of Len Lye’s favourite expressions, a word that captured his immense love of motion and energy. Even as a child he had a remarkable attentiveness to movement and other sensations. Every night he would go over the day’s doings, becoming so good at this that eventually he could recall everything that had happened since the morning with complete precision: “I remembered whether I had first looked out the window at the weather, or guessed it with closed eyes from the feel of the light and air in the plain room; and how I had laid the fire in the morning and how it had caught.”

Sensations became his structuring force in life. The first thing his senses picked up each morning – seeing the sun rise, or feeling bare feet on linoleum floor – determined the focus for the day: “If I’d just heard someone clanking a nice bit of metal outside my bedroom window, it would be a sound day: I’d focus on sounds all day. Colour days, weight days, sound days, motion days – these helped to sharpen my various senses.”

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A Boy, A Girl, A War

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr (Harper Collins, $24.99)
Reviewed by Francis Cook

All the Light pbk.inddRecently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See tells the story of two children reaching adolescence during the Second World War.

Werner, an orphan in Germany, is bright and passionate about radios. He gets accepted into a prestigious school, and later drafted into the army to triangulate radio transmissions from partisans. Marie-Laure, meanwhile, is a blind girl growing up in Paris and Saint-Malo whose father makes miniature models of their neighbourhood to help her navigate outside.

We follow their stories in short, sharp chapters which make the sprawling novel immensely readable. Werner’s time at school is marked by a tragic incident which causes his best friend irreparable brain damage. The event heralds Werner’s induction into the survival-of-the-fittest Nazi mentality for which he is trepidatious but nonetheless complicit.

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Maps of the Past

Augustus Koch: Mapmaker
by Rolf W Brednich (Steele Roberts, $99.99)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Koch -001Apart from a brief entry in Una Platts’ Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists, little has been written about Augustus Koch. I had heard of him as the artist who accompanied Ferdinand Hochstetter on his epic explorations of the central North Island in 1859, but few of his illustrations seemed to have survived. With Augustus Koch – Mapmaker, Rolf Brednich has put him back in the historical record with a thoroughly-researched biography, illustrated by a selection of Koch’s cartoons, drawings and maps.

The basic outlines of Koch’s life come from two autobiographical manuscripts, written for his family, that are now held in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Born into a middle class German family, he studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. His student years coincided with widespread political upheavals, and during the riots in 1848 he defended the barricades against the Prussian army. His cartoons, published in revolutionary news sheets, brought him to the notice of the authorities.

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The Moviemaker

Geoff Murphy: A Life On Film
by Geoff Murphy (HarperCollins, $40)
Reviewed by Lindsay Shelton

book geoffGeoff Murphy’s new memoir deserves to be as popular as his three hit movies of the 1980s. He proves himself to be a natural storyteller, and he tells his story with droll humour. He’s often self-deprecating and he’s occasionally unforgiving. Specially about himself.

Murphy delivers a persuasively lively account of his early life in Wellington. Strapped during his primary school years at Marist Thorndon. Caned during his secondary school at St Patrick’s College at the Basin Reserve. (Not more than six strokes on any one day.) Compulsory military training at the age of 18. (“Conscripts were marched endlessly, up and down the parade ground with NCOs shouting at us at the top of their voices.”) Life at Victoria University and becoming a trumpet player in the band at the university jazz club. (“A boisterous and unruly mob.”) Moving to teachers’ college. Being given the lowest marks during seven years as a primary school teacher at Newtown School. (“My perspective on teaching was quite different to that of the education board.”) Leaving teaching. Finding other ways of earning money. Touring with Blerta (the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition.)

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Insect Power

The Butterfly Club
by Jacqueline Wilson (Doubleday/Penguin Random House, $34.95)
Reviewed by Sophie Robinson

9780857533180“My name is Tina…” is how the main character introduces herself in Jacqueline Wilson’s newest title The Butterfly Club. Tina is the tiniest of the triplets in the Maynard family. “She has a w-e-a-k heart.” spells her mum.

Tina has always been protected by her sisters and her parents, because she’s delicate and vulnerable. “I nearly died [as an infant]” Tina states. So when the triplets move up to Miss Lovejoy’s class and are made to sit apart for the first time in their lives, Tina is forced to become a little more independent. Tina’s family protests the change. Tina is also scared of facing the challenges ahead – after all, she has both Miss Lovejoy “Miss Lovejoy was famous for being very, very strict…” and classmate Selma “Selma was famous for being hateful…” to deal with.

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