Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey (Victoria U Press, $40)
Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke
When I was coming to the end of my six-year stint in London, British people would often say to me, ‘I quite understand why you’d go back to New Zealand – I mean, the landscape, it’s so beautiful, why wouldn’t you?’ Because they were often just making polite conversation, I didn’t bother correcting them, but in fact that was hardly the reason I was returning.
The New Zealand landscape undoubtedly is very beautiful, but so is the British one, and my attachment to this country is much more about some particular places, and the memories and emotions that in them combine, than it is about the landscape as a whole.
So I welcome the decision by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey, the editors of Extraordinary Anywhere, to focus their collection of place-based essays on “the obsession, fascination, wonder and often intense unease experienced in relation to particular spots in this country … how lives are actually lived in very specific places, and how these lives – and places – have changed over time”. This gets us away from that banal discussion about the New Zealand landscape and ‘what it means to us’, a discussion that has long since ceased to be interesting, if ever it was. I also welcome the fact that the essays, as you’d expect in this day and age, largely reject the idea of a fixed landscape: they are alive to the way that places are constructed in our imagination, the way that they are constantly coming into being, creating their meaning by acting as the nodes of all kinds of movements, relationships, connections.
Some of the book’s strongest essays are in the first section, ‘Any place might be extraordinary if only we knew it’. Ashleigh Young’s essay ‘The Te Kuiti Underground’ is a meditation, both sad and funny, about the way that the desire to escape a small town can live alongside a fierce pride in, and knowledge of, that place, while Tony Ballantyne turns his decades-long familiarity with a South Dunedin chip shop into a lens on the economic collapse of its surrounding suburbs.
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