Scoop Review of Books

Pulse of being

Book Review
the everrumble
by Michelle Elvy (AdHoc Fiction, U.K., 2019)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

the-everrumble-front-coverI like this rather slim (113 pages) selection of episodic short prose pieces, which have been organized into a more integrated non-lineal novel. Indeed, I enjoyed it, as I appreciated its generally positive vibe and innovatory approach.

The book is well-crafted, original, thought-provoking. Clever, in fact.

What, then, is it ‘all about’? This is Zettie’s tale from her birth date in 1965 through to her ‘passing’ at the age of 105. Yet, Zettie’s tale is our own tale, as humans still all-too-often hell-bent on destroying our environment and therefore our fellow creatures – and thus – symbiotically and inevitably – ourselves.

Zettie makes a deliberate decision not to talk or to utter sounds from a very young age – seven. She turns to listening to the manifold noises which she can hear from well beyond the ‘normal’ human range, while at the same time turning to an array of over twenty books and making copious notes from them. These escapades are all interwoven into the two sections of this tome; more adhesively during the second. More, while her biographical potpourri is written in the third person, Zettie’s notes about her myriad significant books, are transcribed in the first person.

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This Beautiful Land

Book Review
Flying High: The Photography of Lloyd Homer
by Simon Nathan. (Published by Geoscience Society of NZ, distributed by David Bateman Ltd, $45.)
Reviewed by Bob Brockie

front-cover_sFor 35 years, Lloyd Homer took over 100,000 photos for the New Zealand Geological Survey (now known as GNS), his cameras taking him to many of the most spectacular and remote corners of New Zealand. Author of this book, Simon Nathan, admits that with such a vast collection of photos to choose from, he was challenged to select the best 150 to publish here.

Lloyd specialised in aerial photography of geological features from a plane — a hazardous undertaking in earlier days as it involved photographing sideways through the open doors of Cessna planes often flying at steep angles.

Lloyd Homer in action, taking photos out of the open door of a Cessna. Photo: Alan Knowles

Lloyd Homer in action, taking photos out of the open door of a Cessna. Photo: Alan Knowles

He later used special cameras and gear for photographing directly downwards with GPS accuracy.  In the course of his work, Lloyd was lucky to survive several plane crashes.

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Woman. Rocks. Science.

Book Review
Rocks, radio and radar: the extraordinary scientific, social and military life of Elizabeth Alexander
 by Mary Harris (World Scientific Press, 595 pages. $148, or e-book $29.95)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

alexander1Elizabeth Alexander (1908-58) was a pioneering scientist who undertook research on widely different topics in England, Singapore, New Zealand and Nigeria, but sadly died before her 50th birthday. Her extraordinary story has been documented by her daughter, Mary Harris. While my initial interest in this book was for its New Zealand content, it is an intriguing case-study of a capable woman scientist who fitted her life around family commitments, urgent wartime research, and the career choices of her husband.

Born in 1908 to parents who were university graduates, Elizabeth Caldwell spent her early years in India, where her father was Principal of Patna Science College. She became a ‘colonial orphan’ when she and her siblings were sent back to England for their education. Elizabeth was clearly an outstanding student, winning a scholarship to study natural sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge. Originally interested in physics, she subsequently decided to specialize in geology, and graduated with a PhD on the Aymestry Limestone. In Cambridge she met Norman Alexander, an Auckland scientist studying for his PhD in the Cavendish Laboratory. They were married in 1935, and almost immediately set off for Singapore where Norman had been appointed Professor of Physics at Raffles College.

While raising her three children, Elizabeth continued her geological work with a study of rock weathering under tropical conditions, including burying samples to assess the speed of rock decay. The outbreak of war in Europe led to a move to the Naval Intelligence Service where she worked on radio direction finding at the Singapore naval base. At the time the term ‘radio direction finding’ was also being used as the cover name for the different and very secret technologies of radar.

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Securing the Past

Book Review
Making History: a New Zealand story
 by Jock Phillips (Auckland University Press, 384 Pages. $45)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

jp-cover-001Over the last half century there has been a growing interest in New Zealand history. Books on all aspects of history are popular, supplemented by films, TV, the internet and exhibitions in museums and galleries around the country. Jock Phillips is a pioneering public historian who has sought new ways to communicate history to a wide audience. His autobiographical memoir is a fascinating account of how perceptions of history have changed through his career.

At the outset, I must make it clear that this is not a fully objective review. I worked under Jock at Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, and have a high regard for his dedication and management skills. In reading this book, I was keen to find out more about his background and motivation.

As the son of two history graduates who studied together at university, it was almost inevitable that Jock would become an academic. He won a scholarship to Harvard, immersed himself in US politics in the Nixon era, and returned to Victoria University to teach American history. At that stage he had never studied New Zealand history – in those days a poor relation in the academic world – but he gradually came to be fascinated by the social history of his own country. His understanding grew as he worked on two books – the first on domestic stained-glass windows with friend and collaborator Chris Maclean, and the second on Kiwi male stereotypes which eventually became his best-seller, A Man’s Country.

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Rite of Passage

Book Review
The Fell
by Robert Jenkins (RedDoor Publishing, 2019)
Reviewed by Johnny Tell

410khbegzulVery recently I posted a review for this novel on and make no apology for posting another here. It is my intention to ensure The Fell finds as wide a readership as possible. It matters that much.

The Fell is tagged as a debut novel by Robert Jenkins and RedDoor Publishing, but the quality of its craftwork suggests otherwise.  I would like  to know more about the author but his bio tells us little.

The Fell reads like a classic of literary fiction, a rite of passage that stands testing against any previous work. I suspect, in time, if it finds its feet,  it will rank alongside the likes of The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies. Actually, for readers today, this will eclipse them. They are vanilla in comparison.

To be fair, in comparison Fight Club is tame and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is set in a normal and well-run institution.

The Fell reeks of lived experience and is in places harsh, brutal and disturbing, but also poetic, subtle, tender and clever. I suspect for many readers it will be almost too subtle, an entire life-changing event is distilled into a single line. “I let him have me all”, is all we hear about the boy narrator’s first experience of homosexuality. A line referencing a hilariously inappropriate folk song catches you unawares until it percolates and then stuns with how very appropriate it really is. His view of old people in a park is heartbreakingly on the money.

Sometimes confusion, honesty and raw experience are encapsulated in a single word and the simplicity of language used by the young character is employed perfectly.

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