Reading Rose Tremain’s wonderful The Colour has made me realise quite how few books I have read which are set in New Zealand. This is clearly an oversight on my part; New Zealand has always been very high on my travel list, and I am fascinated by the culture there. Katherine Mansfield, born in Wellington, is one of my favourite all-time authors, and I also very much enjoy the work of Janet Frame, Lloyd Jones, and Eleanor Catton. I clearly need more works set in New Zealand on my to-read pile, and thus have made a list of tomes which I am very much looking forward to picking up in the next year or so.
1. Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge (I’m hoping to read this for the 1944 Club in October)
‘A haunting love story set in the Channel Islands and New Zealand in the 19th century. William, whose hypnotic, masculine presence made two women adore him… of Marianne, moody, passionate, brilliant, by whom William was both fascinated and repelled… of Marguerite, Marianne’s beautiful sister whom William wanted with all his heart. They had both loved him for years. Now they were waiting for him to return from his journeys and claim his bride.‘
2. Blindsight by Maurice Gee
‘Alice Ferry lives in Wellington, and keeps an eye on her brother, though he doesn’t know it. Alice as narrator begins telling us the story from their childhood, but there are things she’s hiding. When a young man shows up on her doorstep, claiming to be her brother Gordon’s grandson, things get complicated.‘
3. The Bone People by Keri Hulme
‘In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor—a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge. Winner of both a Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize for Literature, The Bone People is a work of unfettered wordplay and mesmerizing emotional complexity.‘
4. An Angel at My Table: An Autobiography by Janet Frame
‘This autobiography traces Janet Frame’s childhood in a poor but intellectually intense family, life as a student, years of incarceration in mental hospitals and eventual entry into the saving world of writers.‘
5. The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns
‘Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land. Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.‘
6. The Piano by Jane Campion
‘In the award-winning film The Piano, writer/director Jane Campion created a story so original and powerful it fascinated millions of moviegoers. This novel stands independent of the film, exploring the mysteries of Ada’s muteness, the secret of her daughter’s conception, the reason for her strange marriage and the past lives of Baines and Stewart.‘
7. A Respectable Girl by Fleur Beale
‘It is 1859 in the raw township of New Plymouth where Hannah Carstairs walks between two worlds. She finds that both her worlds are changing. First there are the disturbing hints about her dead mother’s past. Then, the tensions between the Maori tribes and the settlers boil over into war.‘
8. A Land of Two Halves by Joe Bennett
‘After 10 years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett asked himself what on earth he was doing there. Other than his dogs, what was it about these two small islands on the edge of the world that had kept him—an otherwise restless traveller—for really much longer than they seemed to deserve? Bennett thought he’d better pack his bag and find out. Hitching around both the intriguingly named North and South Islands, with an eye for oddity and a taste for conversation, Bennett began to remind himself of the reasons New Zealand is quietly seducing the rest of the world.‘
Have you read any of these books? Which are your favourite works set in, or about, New Zealand?
6 thoughts on “Books Set in New Zealand”
Same here. The only work I’ve ever read set in New Zealand is The Settling Earth. I’m not usually a short story girl but I can absolutely recommend it. So evocative, particularly her descriptions of the landscape.
I recently read my first Janet Frame novel so really want to read Angel at my Table. I absolutely adored The Bone People.
‘The Bone People’ has just moved up my TBR list, in that case!
Several of these sound very interesting. I’ve not read any set in NZ or written by authors from there (unless the little bit at the beginning of the Thorn Birds counts)
Just re-read the bone people..very good . Think there’s a shortage of good nz books though. I’m still looking. Did you read these books? Which was your favourite?
I’ve not read any of them yet, but all are on my TBR! I’ll have to try and find a copy of ‘The Bone People’ sooner rather than later.