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Archive for March, 2016

Before the ‘Thrones’

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
by George R R Martin (Voyager, $44.99)
Reviewed by Logan Angel

Knight_CoverA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a spinoff of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy books whose first volume was A Game of Thrones. With the sixth season of the TV series of the same name right around the corner, fans may feel they want to freshen up on the Martin’s world with this collection of three novellas. The stories feature Dunk and Egg, two figures that loom in the background of A Song of Ice and Fire’s fictional history.

The first story, “The Hedge Knight”, acts as an introduction to the two main characters, Ser Duncan the Tall, a poor knight who lends his aid to the noble cause, and his mysterious squire, the young Egg, who is far more than he appears. At a tourney, Duncan, better known as Dunk, becomes embroiled in a conflict when he defends a puppeteer from the wrathful Prince Aerion. Overall, the first story serves as a decent primer to two characters that are mentioned frequently in the setting’s history. Fans will likely appreciate the strong presence of the Targaryen family, the ruling dynasty of the continent, whose members are often mentioned but rarely seen in the main series.

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Essays From the Heart

Quicksand: What it means to be a human being
by Henning Mankell,
translated by Laurie Thompson with Marlaine Delargy (Harvill Secker, $38)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Henning_Mankell_WebLast summer, the Tate Gallery in London held a “Sensorium”; the exhibition featured four paintings from The Tate collection, with accompanying headphones that provided sounds and, somehow, with technological brilliance, smells and tastes as well. Henning Mankell describes his own sensual reactions (without such modern trickery) to works of art, whereby he tastes and smells paintings as he views them. One can only hope he chose his paintings carefully. With such acute sensitivity to visual stimuli, it’s hard to know how Mankell tackles so many corpses in his best-known written works.
Although I doubt he was a squeamish person. His strong focus on corpses and murders would indicate otherwise. It’s more likely he was squeamish about human injustice, racism and inequality, which he saw in his own country, Sweden, and elsewhere. Always a left-wing activist, he used his crime writing as a way of demonstrating the cruelties of a once-liberal system that had gradually become divided and bigoted.
We’re familiar with Scandinavian noir from Mankell, whose well-known anti-hero Kurt Wallander is always struggling towards some blood-stained snow. Anyone would think that Scandinavian murder was rife, yet that collection of countries has some of the lowest intentional homicide statistics in the world; Sweden’s per capita stats are similar to our own. Despite his international success as a thriller writer, theatre was Mankell’s first focus and he wrote plays and other books before getting into the crime genre.

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Whitu, 八 … Nink

Hogart the Hedgehog Turns Nink
text by Blair Reeve, pictures by Chris Stapp (Anapest Press, $25)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Blair ReevesI rather like this slight, self-published book; slight because at only 41 multi-coloured pages – some with no text on them – it’s very easy to read at one sitting, especially as much of it is in anapestic rhyming and alliterative tri-lines, rather like a looooong nursery rhyme. Given Blair Reeve’s strong performance poet background, this is a book to be read, indeed chanted, OUT LOUD. I can well see him onstage doing exactly that.

It is a clever wee book too, because, while it is ostensibly a children’s picture book for dads and mums to read to their kids and tots at bedtime, in reality it has several other layers. It’s not so slight after all, eh.

Let’s look at the multi-levels contained between these bright hard covers:

1. Hogart the hedgehog, can of course, be read entirely as a kid’s book, replete with Edward Lear type nonsense and multiple Dr Seuss rhyming patterns – generally aaa/bbb – gone madder. Yet I sensed more, the more I scanned in and between the lines.

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Adventures in Persia

Sweet Boy Dear Wife: Jane Dieulafoy in Persia 1881-1886
by Heather Rossiter (Wakefield Press, $AU39.95)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

Sweet-Boy002_WebThis is a true story of a French couple’s amazing archaeological expeditions in the late nineteenth century in what is now Iran and Iraq. They travelled over 6000 kilometres, mostly on horseback with long mule trains carrying their baggage across country largely devoid of formed roads, usually in convoy with local travellers. Both Jane and Marcel suffered life threatening illnesses at times while travelling. These delayed but did not deter them. They excavated a vast quantity of antiquities and brought back spectacular examples to the Louvre. Though largely unknown outside France, Jane Dieulafoy received the Legion of Honour for her archaeological work: when she died in 1916 she was described in The New York Times as the “most remarkable woman in France and perhaps in all Europe”.

Heather Rossiter, who has studied Eastern and Oriental art and Islamic monuments and travelled extensively in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia has based this book mainly on Jane’s diaries and another book that she published on her return to France. These incorporated engravings made from her many photographs, several of which Rossiter has reproduced in this book, to great effect. Jane was an avid photographer and took her unwieldy photographic equipment everywhere.

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Prison Diaries

The Prison Diary of AC Barrington – dissent and conformity in wartime New Zealand
By John Pratt, with an introduction by John Barrington (Otago University Press, $39.95)
Reviewed by Mark Derby

otago291611Mt Crawford Prison has been closed these past four years, but its 90-year-old buildings still straggle along the tip of the steep ridge dividing Miramar peninsula from the rest of Wellington. From my house on the south coast I can see the prison’s high and exposed site, and imagine the unparalleled harbour views from its grounds. Yet I’ve never been up to the gruesome old institution standing at the end of the no-exit ridgeline road.

 

Most of us don’t have occasion to visit prisons, although we know we pay for them. We trust that they’re humanely run, express fleeting concern at the occasional revelations of fight clubs, derive a vicarious frisson of danger from fictive portrayals like Orange is the New Black, and secretly reassure ourselves that those inside probably expect and deserve no better.

Victoria University’s Prof. John Pratt is one of the few city residents who have often made the steep journey up to Mt Crawford, and to the country’s other prisons as well. His work as a criminologist has also taken him across the world, providing him with telling international comparisons with our own ever-growing, ever-failing prison system. Read more »