Monday, November 2, 2009

Between the Covers

Last week before all the running around like a mad thing getting ready for the big trip, I got to pop down to the local television station and do my Dunedin Diary thing, reviewing the books of two local authors.

The timing turned out to be quite delightful, as the first of the books I reviewed was by Brian Turner, who has just been announced as the recipient of the Prime Minister's award for Literature, specifically his poetry.

So here's my notes for the reviews, with the usual qualification that this was what I wanted to say before nerves and my dodgy memory.

OK, so Blogger is being uncooperative, and its now a day later and it doesn't like my HTML, blah,blah, so I've had to do this the long way...

Just This by Brian Turner

I will confess to being a great admirer of Brian Turner's poetry, and his ability to speak and reach out to everyone. i think he has a remarkable gift to paint with words his landscape, the people in it, and their relationship with it in such an expressive and evocative way.

For me a particularly moving segment of the collection of poems focused on fathers and sons, froma poem about a child's first day at school, to a poem about joy.

As always his observations about his Central Otago landscape are beautifully drawn, evoking the grand, the big skies and the mountains, right down to the rustic detail, of moving stock and their inevitable trails... "A curdle of sheep wobbles by..." And he does all this in his poems with a wry humour and tenderness.

Brian himself summed it up by saying there is no finer way of saying things than through poetry, and he certainly does this here. I recommend his latest collection, Just This. I think there is something there for everyone to enjoy.

Collision by Joanna Orwin

Joanna Orwin was this year's Otago University College of Education Children's Writer in Residence. Collision is her first adult novel.

I found this book a fascinating read. There have been many historical novels looking at the conflict between Maori and early British settlers, but this is the first I have read that looks at the French and Maori. Monsieur Marion du Fresne lead a two ship French expedition to New Zealand in 1772, and due to a collision between the ships had a prolonged stop for repairs in the Bay of Islands. This story is based on true events and through the eyes of Andre Tallec, an ensign with the French. It also gives the Maori perspective. The story portrays the interactions between the French and local Maori lead by the Chief Te Kuri. We see how a lack of language, ignorance of each others cultures, a certain amount of arrogance and also local politics built up to a climax for the ill fated expedition. So this is a book about a collision of cultures, and even though each side was trying hard, it all turned sour.

Collision is not what I'd call a rip-snorter adventure, it's more considered, but it builds up the tension and in reading it you feel a part of this ball rolling towards an unstoppable disaster.

I'd recommend this book for anyone with an interest in New Zealand History, it gives a fascinating new perspective, and also anyone who enjoys a good historic nautical of military tale.

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