Sunday, 20 January 2013

I'm in a Book

Every year since I was 18, come December 31st, I’ve made my obligatory sure-to-fail New Years Resolutions.  The mainstays were always giving up smoking and losing weight. The fags were easy. At 25, I was unceremoniously dumped by a Central Hawkes Bay farmer (who I was in a long-distance relationship with, not a fight). I hit the road back to Auckland; a thought-provoking seven hours in my racing green Mini with no stereo. On the flat stretch of the Te Aute plains I crushed, one by one, the contents of my last ever packet of Benson & Hedges Gold.  Discarding paper and tobacco bits directly onto the disappearing tarmac. All the while sobbing and wailing -you bastard. It felt good. The nicotine withdrawal period was intense however, akin to stopping thumb sucking at age 10. But I stuck at it and never looked back. By 27 I decided to never look at my backside either, nor my thighs which in my critical eyes bulged too widely from my hips. It was finally time to be happy with the body I had. Pity it took so many years of dieting for that dysmorphic acid-drop to finally dissolve.
Nowadays, I set less drastic personal targets. This year I plan to read more books. It’s January 20 and I’m ploughing through numbers 3, 4 & 5. I like to read New Zealand fiction over the summer, somehow it just feels right. Delving into the nation’s psyche while minding the kids and trying not to go psychotic over the neverending dirty dishes attracting flies in the sink, or the spider webs in every out-of-reach corner doing their darndest to catch the flies attracted to...
After a moist Christmas in Auckland, we spent a rainy New Year at home in Queenstown. I didn’t care.

I was immersed in Charlotte Grimshaw’s, Soon.

Set in mid-summer on a built-up beach front (which could be Omaha) the sand was sizzling hot. I almost had to put on my bikini and a quick dollop of fake tan. Kidding – I just snuggled further under my Fairydown espresso throw (never quite understood why marketers named these light feather blankets after coffee?). 
Anyway, this is the first Charlotte Grimshaw novel I’ve read, but I’m told, “It mirrors the current social and political landscape, like all her novels”. And it does. Her frightfully rich, National Prime Minister, David Hallright, reminds me of a man my son calls Don Key. I’ve never met Bronagh Key, so couldn’t say whether, David’s mysterious control-freak wife, Roza is similar. I found the complicated fairytale she retells, as a private game with her four-year-old son, a bit distracting. It parroted the social malfunctioning of the main characters, but I couldn’t be bothered re-reading the details to match up each character with their assumed pseudonym. Roza had a little too much power over, Simon Lampton, obstetrician/gynaecologist and protagonist. Simon was a flake. I kind of felt sorry for him at the start and wanted him to get away with the silly manslaughter of the nosy filmmaker. Although, when he continued to be mean to his wife and revealed he’d had an affair with a woman on the DPB in south Auckland, I changed my mind. ‘Soon’ is a galloping read, however for me the sand dampened (it may have been the two days of rain) towards the end of the book. Thankfully Simon manned up, overcame his sordid crimes, thus leaving his reputation intact to continue on and serve those pregnant women so reliant on him. Phew.


The sun came out and I moved on to Emily Perkin’s, ‘The Forrests’.   

Unlike ‘Soon’, a Christmas present and a book I wouldn’t have necessarily purchased myself, I’d been itching to read, ‘The Forrests’. I'm a big fan of EP. I have a signed copy of, 'Not Her Real Name' (her first collection of short stories published in 1996), in my book shelf. However, as I began reading I found myself worrying about the life of Dorothy Forrest. I felt depressed when I came to the end. Dot's end. The sun was finally shining outside but it may as well have been raining again. Dot’s husband was her friend, if only that, and the father of her four children, which she enveloped herself in the raising of, giving in to never losing her baby fat and baking herself further into her track pants. Dot was the perfect nurturer. 

But sad things happened. Her sister died. Daniel, her unrequited love hovered seductively in her mind as the answer to her happiness, but only ever showed up fleetingly. I wanted to give Dot a slap every now and then and tell her to get on with it, that she was a good woman and deserved to be happy etc. I guess for some people Dot’s life and relationships are as good as it gets. Perkins certainly puts us into a mother's world by paring back the minutiae of the day to day raising of children etc in fine detail. 

However Dot is no shrinking Violet, in her old age she becomes a serial shoplifter, to the point where she needs to bus to other suburbs so not to get caught in her local! She also touches the lives of many in her role as caregiver. Fast forward to being elderly and ill, Dot enters a hospice. In the final chapters (my favourite) Perkins narrates in her lyrical style the inner/outer body experience of Dot’s morphine-addled mind beautifully. In the following excerpt she chats with the hospice orderly:

‘Those morphine dreams are fruity, man,’ the boy in the blue coat said, his tattoos falling to the floor like vines.

‘You’re proving your point,’ Dot said. ‘I’m so sick of gargling,’ she said. ‘Morphine doesn’t mean the end. This is not over. I know what your game is.

‘You know it,’ he said. ‘You know.’  (from The Forrests, Emily Perkins, Bloomsbury Circus)

From time to time Dot's deceased sister sat on her bed and they discussed childhood things, like snails in the letter box. Then finally Dot Forrest slips away. I love reading about the human condition. I’ll definitely be buying the next book.  

Onto book number three by Steve Braunias, ‘Civilization, Twenty Places on the Edge of the World’. 

Steve is a story hunter and this book is full of trophies. From Hicks Bay all the way down the country and back up, he’s interviewed characters and narrated details most of us would overlook. “For three years… I went to places no one went to, drawn to their averageness, their nothingness, their banal and exhilarating New Zealandness …” says the blurb on the back.
Steve thinks in sentences. I know so because I attended the Wanaka Autumn Art School, 2011 and he was our tutor.  The first exercise we had to do was interview our neighbour, write four sentences about them as per a radio news story.  I turned my interview into a fictional ‘morning coffee chat show’.  I must have added an exclamation mark because Steve called me a *#@*wit before he read my offering the next day. I didn’t mind, I just replied, what an &@**hole. New Zealand’s most awarded journo is pretty straight up. He’s also incredibly passionate. I learnt heaps that week.
Steve announced mid-December, the names of Class of 2011 were to appear in ‘Civilization’ (and possibly some of our writing). Call me vain, but I ordered a copy straight away. In a famous author’s book? What a privilege. What an idiot. There I was, Jane Bloomfield, second paragraph, page 189. I read out ‘my sentence’ to daughters, 14 and 12. 14 burst out laughing, 12 said, ‘what a perv’. I fumed and felt deflated. Not consoled by appearing three years younger in print. 
A few days later I started Civilization. Chapter 1: Hicks Bay, A Brief History of Meat. Fascinating. It transported me back to a holiday on the East Cape many years ago. We ended up at a motel in Hicks Bay. Local Iwi was holding a hui. The dining room was full, so we were delivered a deep fried room service meal, the partial remains of which floated in the toilet bowl the next morning – no kidding. I’ve never felt so white. We snuck out, heads lowered passed a room full of laptops the next morning.
And on I read around the country. Fascinated. The stories in ‘Civilization’ are funny, scary and full of misfits. Who would find an 85 year old ex-freezing worker living rough in a kind of loft in a derelict freezing works with only a family of cats for company? Braunias. I savoured each story. I forgot about my name, finally in print. My insulted body part was starting to get over itself. 
You can read about me too and other oddballs: ‘Civilization, Twenty Places on the Edge of the World’, in good bookstores now. 
I haven’t set a target total-read for the year. If I average 5 a month that’s: 60 books. I’ve now started, ‘All that Glitters’, by Denise L’Estrange Corbet, of World fashion. ‘She’s a complex person with a big story to tell’, apparently. As well as, ‘The Leisure Seekers’, by Michael Zadoorian. Not homegrown. About two 85 five year olds, one with cancer and one with Alzheimer's going on their last roadie on Route 66. I’ll keep you posted. 
Oh, if a never-cause-sleeping-partner-to-fidget bedside lamp exists, please let me know? 
Happy reading.


  1. well well my Dear ..
    you sure are keeping yourself busy !!
    Still haven't open my Jane Austin complet novels/one unit book of all yet...but I'm working on it!!
    Whilst wishinf I coud be bothered by the heat !!! Yeah right

  2. All that snow around Miss Caroline, the perfect time to snuggle under a bear rug with Ms Austin. xx


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