6

Books Set in New Zealand

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.

5271891. 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 460635
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.

 

237252755. 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 3768628
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?

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And Other Stories: ‘Something Childish and Other Stories’ by Katherine Mansfield *****

Written in April 2012

Although an incredibly famous figure in her home country of New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield does not seem to achieve the levels of press which she deserves in the United Kingdom. From reading her work, however, it is clear to see why she is declared a master of modernist fiction, and why New Zealand hail her as ‘a qualified national icon’.

Katherine Mansfield

Known almost solely for her wonderfully varied short story collections, Mansfield’s style, storylines and subject matter are always carefully chosen and compulsively readable. Her stories are often sarcastic and satirical, but some are hopeful and bright, thus creating an incredibly well-balanced oeuvre.

Over her writing career, Mansfield published four short story collections, beginning with the publication of In a German Pension in 1911 when she was just twenty-one years old. A further fifteen stories, collected together in The Dove’s Nest and Other Stories, were published after her untimely death from tuberculosis in 1923.

Something Childish and Other Stories encompasses the nine-year period between the publication of her first and second collections, and features several of her earlier efforts. It includes twenty-five separate stories, all of which feature a medley of diverse characters. It seems to be one of the least well-known of her short story collections, despite the fact that the power the stories have is just as strong as in her later writing.

Mansfield successfully evokes a complex tapestry of human emotions throughout Something Childish and Other Stories. This is particularly vivid in the title story, ‘Something Childish’, which follows a young man named Henry as he meets a “simply beautiful” red-haired girl named Edna on an otherwise monotonous train journey out of London. A wealth of emotions are peppered throughout the story – timidity, wonder, comprehension, misunderstandings and utter adoration. Throughout this particular story, the reader simultaneously feels hope and sympathy for Henry, as there is a sense of continuous foreboding that a poignantly depressing ending is just around the corner.

‘The Tiredness of Rosabel’, Mansfield’s first published story, creates an evocative picture of London as viewed by a young girl working in a milliners. Along with a past-tense narrative which conjures up Rosabel’s seemingly mundane job and the echoes of poverty apparent in her lodgings, there is an interwoven sense of perpetual daydream which gives the story an almost magical feel. In ‘A Suburban Fairy Tale’, the reader is presented with the adorable character of an inquisitive child named ‘Little B’, constantly asking questions of his parents who more often than not ignore him. A sense of fantasy and magical realism has been employed in this particular story, as the ending sees Little B turned into a sparrow, joining the birds which he is so enthralled with watching on the lawn.

Even in these earlier stories which Mansfield herself was never content with, the writing style seems incredibly polished and there are elements within each that truly surprise the reader in terms of their clarity. Tiny moments in the day-to-day existence of so many characters are portrayed as being paramount in defining their lives – from a small girl intent on pleasing her Father who is rewarded with a rap across the knuckles when the construction of his birthday gift goes horribly wrong in ‘The Little Girl’, to ‘Pénsion Seguin’ which deals with a woman intent on finding a room to let who is suddenly catapulted into frantic family life.

Many different settings have been used throughout, from the bustling city of London to colonial New Zealand life which is starkly portrayed in ‘Millie’ and ‘The Woman at the Store’. Whilst many other short story writers may have one or two stories within a published collection which do not seem to fit with the themes of those which precede them, the balance of Something Childish and Other Stories is near perfection.

The way in which Mansfield carefully selects the words she uses ensures that her writing is always striking. As well as mastering the elements of the short story and creating a wonderful wealth of work which can be dipped in and out of or read continuously whilst still holding the reader’s full attention, Mansfield is also a master of the narrative voice, using both first and third person perspectives. This collection includes two short plays which show how polished Mansfield is at creating believable dialogue. Slight dialects are suggested throughout – the country boy and girl in ‘See-Saw’, for example – which build up an even more three-dimensional picture of the characters which are infused within the stories themselves. This adds yet another dimension to Mansfield’s prose.

Mansfield’s work is heartrending, poignant and simply beautiful. Some of the exquisiteness of her writing comes from the way in which she presents ordinary beings in everyday situations, thus making her stories incredibly easy to relate to. Her stories can be read multiple times over the span of a lifetime and a wealth of different elements are guaranteed to be picked up by the reader on each separate occasion. The stories grow with us, and encompass the main elements of life – from birth to childhood, from courting to marriage, from naïvety and innocence to a heightened sense of experience.

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One From the Archive: ‘Something Childish and Other Stories’ by Katherine Mansfield *****

Written in April 2012

Although an incredibly famous figure in her home country of New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield does not seem to achieve the levels of press which she deserves in the United Kingdom. From reading her work, however, it is clear to see why she is declared a master of modernist fiction, and why New Zealand hail her as ‘a qualified national icon’.

Katherine Mansfield

Known almost solely for her wonderfully varied short story collections, Mansfield’s style, storylines and subject matter are always carefully chosen and compulsively readable. Her stories are often sarcastic and satirical, but some are hopeful and bright, thus creating an incredibly well-balanced oeuvre.

Over her writing career, Mansfield published four short story collections, beginning with the publication of In a German Pension in 1911 when she was just twenty-one years old. A further fifteen stories, collected together in The Dove’s Nest and Other Stories, were published after her untimely death from tuberculosis in 1923.

Something Childish and Other Stories encompasses the nine-year period between the publication of her first and second collections, and features several of her earlier efforts. It includes twenty-five separate stories, all of which feature a medley of diverse characters. It seems to be one of the least well-known of her short story collections, despite the fact that the power the stories have is just as strong as in her later writing.

Mansfield successfully evokes a complex tapestry of human emotions throughout Something Childish and Other Stories. This is particularly vivid in the title story, ‘Something Childish’, which follows a young man named Henry as he meets a “simply beautiful” red-haired girl named Edna on an otherwise monotonous train journey out of London. A wealth of emotions are peppered throughout the story – timidity, wonder, comprehension, misunderstandings and utter adoration. Throughout this particular story, the reader simultaneously feels hope and sympathy for Henry, as there is a sense of continuous foreboding that a poignantly depressing ending is just around the corner.

‘The Tiredness of Rosabel’, Mansfield’s first published story, creates an evocative picture of London as viewed by a young girl working in a milliners. Along with a past-tense narrative which conjures up Rosabel’s seemingly mundane job and the echoes of poverty apparent in her lodgings, there is an interwoven sense of perpetual daydream which gives the story an almost magical feel. In ‘A Suburban Fairy Tale’, the reader is presented with the adorable character of an inquisitive child named ‘Little B’, constantly asking questions of his parents who more often than not ignore him. A sense of fantasy and magical realism has been employed in this particular story, as the ending sees Little B turned into a sparrow, joining the birds which he is so enthralled with watching on the lawn.

Even in these earlier stories which Mansfield herself was never content with, the writing style seems incredibly polished and there are elements within each that truly surprise the reader in terms of their clarity. Tiny moments in the day-to-day existence of so many characters are portrayed as being paramount in defining their lives – from a small girl intent on pleasing her Father who is rewarded with a rap across the knuckles when the construction of his birthday gift goes horribly wrong in ‘The Little Girl’, to ‘Pénsion Seguin’ which deals with a woman intent on finding a room to let who is suddenly catapulted into frantic family life.

Many different settings have been used throughout, from the bustling city of London to colonial New Zealand life which is starkly portrayed in ‘Millie’ and ‘The Woman at the Store’. Whilst many other short story writers may have one or two stories within a published collection which do not seem to fit with the themes of those which precede them, the balance of Something Childish and Other Stories is near perfection.

The way in which Mansfield carefully selects the words she uses ensures that her writing is always striking. As well as mastering the elements of the short story and creating a wonderful wealth of work which can be dipped in and out of or read continuously whilst still holding the reader’s full attention, Mansfield is also a master of the narrative voice, using both first and third person perspectives. This collection includes two short plays which show how polished Mansfield is at creating believable dialogue. Slight dialects are suggested throughout – the country boy and girl in ‘See-Saw’, for example – which build up an even more three-dimensional picture of the characters which are infused within the stories themselves. This adds yet another dimension to Mansfield’s prose.

Mansfield’s work is heartrending, poignant and simply beautiful. Some of the exquisiteness of her writing comes from the way in which she presents ordinary beings in everyday situations, thus making her stories incredibly easy to relate to. Her stories can be read multiple times over the span of a lifetime and a wealth of different elements are guaranteed to be picked up by the reader on each separate occasion. The stories grow with us, and encompass the main elements of life – from birth to childhood, from courting to marriage, from naïvety and innocence to a heightened sense of experience.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

One from the Archive: ‘The Life of Katherine Mansfield’ by Ruth Elvish-Mantz and John Middleton Murry ****

I have read several biographies and biographical works relating to Katherine Mansfield, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite authors, as well as volumes of her own journals and letters.  I thought that this book, told by the man whom she married and spent almost all of her entire adult life – short though it was – with, would be both fascinating and enlightening.  I was intrigued to see which stance John Middleton Murry would take in his recollections of Mansfield’s life.

Katherine Mansfield

Thinking that the majority of this book had been written by Murry, particularly as his name appears first on the volume which I read, I was quite surprised when I learnt that Ruth Elvish-Mantz, an author who I can find little information on, was the main writer of this text.  Murry states in his introduction that ‘at least nine-tenths of the actual narrative’ was penned by Elvish-Mantz.  He states at the outset that, ‘In scope Katherine Mansfield was a tiny artist; but because she was a pure artist, she was a great one’.

The main body of the book has been written almost in a prose-like style, complete with some rather lovely descriptions.  Each one of its chapters deals with a different section of Mansfield’s life, and is subsequently split into short essays.  This makes it a book which the reader is able to dip in and out of at whim without losing the main thread of the story.  I liked the way in which it set out the lives of Mansfield’s ancestors at the start, and the history of how New Zealand came to be an inhabited country.  The social history is strong from start to finish, and the folklore of New Zealand particularly is fascinating.

One of the strengths of the book for me was the way in which the authors spoke about how the experiences which Mansfield went through so influenced her writing.  I very much enjoyed all of the anecdotes and memories from Mansfield’s childhood which were woven in.  The inclusion of fragments of stories and unpublished manuscripts was a lovely touch, and I was pleased that her letters made up great chunks of each chapter and were then built upon by the authors.

Katherine Mansfield and her siblings (From L-R) Charlotte Mary, Vera, Katherine, Jeanne and Leslie Heron

I did not enjoy The Life of Katherine Mansfield as much as I thought I would before I began it.  It seemed lacking in comparison to Ida Constance Baker’s Memories of L.M., which I read last year and adored.  This book seemed more distant somehow, and it was curiously rather emotionally detached.  My least favourite aspect of The Life of Katherine Mansfield was the religious comparisons which were made between Mansfield and Jesus and the like throughout.  It was not overly relevant to her story as far as I am concerned.  I also did not like the way in which people were referred to using different names throughout – for example, Katherine’s eldest sister, Charlotte Mary, was called Charlotte, Chaddie and Marie on separate occasions.  This gave the book no sense of constancy throughout.  Some of the quotes included which have been written or spoken by other contemporaries or critics of Mansfield’s have not been attributed to their authors.  The end of the volume felt very rushed too.  There were also a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes within the Kindle edition which I read, which was a real shame.

Despite this, I am still giving The Life of Katherine Mansfield a four star rating because it contains so much of Mansfield’s beautiful writing, and it is well put together.  If you have not read a biography of Katherine Mansfield before and would like to, however, I would recommend searching out Claire Tomalin’s Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, or the aforementioned Ida Constance Baker’s The Memories of L.M, rather than this one.

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2

One From the Archive: ‘The Life of Katherine Mansfield’ by Ruth Elvish-Mantz and John Middleton Murry ****

I have read several biographies and biographical works relating to Katherine Mansfield, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite authors, as well as volumes of her own journals and letters.  I thought that this book, told by the man whom she married and spent almost all of her entire adult life – short though it was – with, would be both fascinating and enlightening.  I was intrigued to see which stance John Middleton Murry would take in his recollections of Mansfield’s life.

Katherine Mansfield

Thinking that the majority of this book had been written by Murry, particularly as his name appears first on the volume which I read, I was quite surprised when I learnt that Ruth Elvish-Mantz, an author who I can find little information on, was the main writer of this text.  Murry states in his introduction that ‘at least nine-tenths of the actual narrative’ was penned by Elvish-Mantz.  He states at the outset that, ‘In scope Katherine Mansfield was a tiny artist; but because she was a pure artist, she was a great one’.

The main body of the book has been written almost in a prose-like style, complete with some rather lovely descriptions.  Each one of its chapters deals with a different section of Mansfield’s life, and is subsequently split into short essays.  This makes it a book which the reader is able to dip in and out of at whim without losing the main thread of the story.  I liked the way in which it set out the lives of Mansfield’s ancestors at the start, and the history of how New Zealand came to be an inhabited country.  The social history is strong from start to finish, and the folklore of New Zealand particularly is fascinating.

One of the strengths of the book for me was the way in which the authors spoke about how the experiences which Mansfield went through so influenced her writing.  I very much enjoyed all of the anecdotes and memories from Mansfield’s childhood which were woven in.  The inclusion of fragments of stories and unpublished manuscripts was a lovely touch, and I was pleased that her letters made up great chunks of each chapter and were then built upon by the authors.

Katherine Mansfield and her siblings (From L-R) Charlotte Mary, Vera, Katherine, Jeanne and Leslie Heron

I did not enjoy The Life of Katherine Mansfield as much as I thought I would before I began it.  It seemed lacking in comparison to Ida Constance Baker’s Memories of L.M., which I read last year and adored.  This book seemed more distant somehow, and it was curiously rather emotionally detached.  My least favourite aspect of The Life of Katherine Mansfield was the religious comparisons which were made between Mansfield and Jesus and the like throughout.  It was not overly relevant to her story as far as I am concerned.  I also did not like the way in which people were referred to using different names throughout – for example, Katherine’s eldest sister, Charlotte Mary, was called Charlotte, Chaddie and Marie on separate occasions.  This gave the book no sense of constancy throughout.  Some of the quotes included which have been written or spoken by other contemporaries or critics of Mansfield’s have not been attributed to their authors.  The end of the volume felt very rushed too.  There were also a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes within the Kindle edition which I read, which was a real shame.

Despite this, I am still giving The Life of Katherine Mansfield a four star rating because it contains so much of Mansfield’s beautiful writing, and it is well put together.  If you have not read a biography of Katherine Mansfield before and would like to, however, I would recommend searching out Claire Tomalin’s Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, or the aforementioned Ida Constance Baker’s The Memories of L.M, rather than this one.

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3

Penguin Little Black Classics

I tend not to read many Penguin publications – not due to poor quality, but because I find the spelling rules which they adhere to a little irritating (both -our and -ize endings are utilised, which does not make a great deal of sense to this former proofreader).  I do, however, find myself growing increasingly fond of their Little Black Classics list.  I had read several from the list before they were published, and have since acquired rather a few, either as gifts, to make up the money so that I could get a stamp on my Waterstone’s card (shameless behaviour, I know), or just to try something a little different.

little-black-classics-960

Blackwell

If you are not familiar with them – which I am sure the majority of you will be – the Little Black Classics are a range of eighty short books (each of around sixty pages), published to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Penguin.  They are inexpensive; their corresponding price of eighty pence means that the entire collection is relatively cheap to amass, and will certainly provide some food for thought.

Rather than write reviews of each of the books which I have read from the list to date, I thought it might be a nice idea to focus upon several of the books, along with an enlightening Guardian article about them.  The list which follows is as diverse as Penguin’s publishing list, and I feel as though each and every one of them would serve as a great introduction to the series.

3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
Anonymous Icelandic sagas are wonderful.  I first read this in a collection some years ago, and revisited it last year thanks to the wonderful Poetic Edda.  Written towards the end of the 13th century, the saga is comprised of 25 verses, and is of great importance in both Icelandic and Norwegian history.  It tells of two Icelandic poets, who duel over their shared love for Helga the Fair.

eve_of_st_agnes

‘Madeleine undressing’ by John Everett Millais; inspired by Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes

13. The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
One cannot go wrong with Keats.  He is one of my absolute favourite poets, and sitting down with his work is about the most relaxing thing which one can do.  He wrote beautifully, and The Eve of St Agnes is no exception.  His depiction of nature and the countryside, and his evocation of the cold, is utterly sublime.

23. The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen
I am sure that most are familiar with Andersen’s fairytales, and this one is one of the more  well-known.  It perhaps needs no introduction, but the very idea of it is inventive.  A soldier acquires a magical tinder box which is capable of summoning three dogs to do his bidding.  It sounds strange, but the story is sure to delight (and possibly frighten!) children and adults alike.

42. The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
First published in 1892, Gilman presents an incredibly important early feminist tract, revolving around the female protagonist’s rest cure.  I won’t say too much about this before you embark; just know that it is both wonderful and semi-autobiographical.

50. Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
I absolutely adore war poetry, and Wilfred Owen is another of my favourite poets.  He wrote so strikingly about his own experience during the First World War, in which he was killed just a week before Armistice.  I am unsure as to which poems this collection includes, but I imagine his most well-known works will be included.

katherine-mansfield-007

Katherine Mansfield

72. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t include Katherine Mansfield here.  I absolutely adore her work; I find her so inspiring, and really admire the way in which she can present such a vivid slice of life in just a few pages.  A wonderful short story author, and this is one of my absolute favourites.

 

 

 

Which of the Little Black Classics have you read, and which are you coveting?  Do you like the format of the books?

4

Short Story Series: Part Four

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
‘Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly–they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.’

2. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan
‘This is a collection of stories about love from the New York Times bestselling author of Every Day. They met on a plane / at Starbucks / in class. It was a set-up / it was completely random / they were dancing. It was love at first sight / it took time / it was a disaster! Love is a complicated, addictive, volatile, scary, wonderful thing. Many of the stories in this collection started out as gifts for the author’s friends. From the happy-ever-after to the unrequited, they explore the many aspects of the emotion that has at some time turned us all inside out and upside down.’

3. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
‘Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield’s tragically short life. Many are set in the author’s native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience – from the blackly comic “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, and the short, sharp sketch “Miss Brill”, in which a lonely woman’s precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in “At the Bay”. ‘All that I write,’ Mansfield said, ‘all that I am – is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.”

4. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
‘John and Laura have come to Venice to try and escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that, instead of laying their ghosts to rest, they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events. The four other haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher who investigates a mysterious American couple; a young woman confronting her father’s past; a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem; and a scientist who harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect.’

5. Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
‘Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken’s stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit–only the old woman can’t be traced on the family tree. In ‘What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children’, the normal middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront his mother’s pain. In ‘It’s Bad Luck to Die’, a young woman discovers that her husband’s loving creations–he’s a tattoo artist–make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.’

6. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
‘From the publication of his first Booker-nominated novel at the age of twenty-six, Jon McGregor’s fiction has consistently been defined by lean poetic language, a keen sense of detail, and insightful characterization. Now, after publishing three novels, he’s turning his considerable talent toward short fiction. The stories in this beautifully wrought collection explore a specific physical world and the people who inhabit it.Set among the lowlands and levees, the fens and ditches that mark the spare landscape of eastern England, the stories expose lives where much is buried, much is at risk, and tender moments are hard-won. The narrators of these delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deeply funny stories tell us what they believe to be important-in language inflected with the landscape’s own understatement-while the real stories lie in what they unwittingly let slip.A man builds a tree house by a river in preparation for a coming flood. A boy sets fire to a barn. A pair of itinerant laborers sit by a lake and talk, while fighter-planes fly low overhead and prepare for war. “This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You” is an intricate exploration of isolation, self-discovery, and the impact of place on the human psyche.’

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
‘Flannery O’Connor was working on “Everything That Rises Must Converge” at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.’

8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years, Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker.” She wrote a regular column (“Letter from London”), book reviews, and over thirty short stories about English domestic life during World War Two. Twenty-one of these stories are included in “Good Evening Mrs Craven”–the first collected volume of her work.Mollie Panter-Downes writes about those coping on the periphery of the war who attend sewing parties, host evacuees sent to the country, and obsess over food and rationing. She captures the quiet moments of fear and courage. Here we find “the mistress, unlike the wife, who has to worry and mourn in secret for her man” and a “middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over.’

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0

Flash Reviews: Non-Fiction (18th June 2014)

The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition by Robert Graves *****

‘The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition’

1. I received this gorgeous and much sought-after book for Christmas, and could not wait to read it.  I have always adored Greek mythology – more so since I visited Olympia in Greece last year.
2. I really like the format which Graves has adopted.  Each myth has been given its own heading, and Graves in turn writes the story using as many different sources as he could find, and comments upon such details as the history and social conditions of each item of interest.
3. Graves’ prose style is so smooth, and so well thought out.

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Katherine Mansfield: A Darker View by Jeffrey Meyers ****
1. My boyfriend knows how much I adore Katherine Mansfield, and bought me this biography as an anniversary present.  I adore Mansfield criticism, and this is amongst the best I have come across thus far.  The introduction, however, does not seem to paint Meyers in the best light – he seems dismissive and quite offensive at times.
2. Throughout, Meyers has used his sources well, deciding both to back things up and discount others by use of his evidence.  He has spoken to a wealth of first-hand sources too, which makes all the difference.
3. Meyers does not paint the most flattering portrait of Katherine, but perhaps that is what a biographer should do – setting out what he believes are the facts for his readers, whether acting in the favour of his subjects or not.  It is sure to provide Mansfield fans with much to consider, and a lot to learn.

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‘Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl’

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock ****
1. The cover design of the lovely paperback (pictured) is stunning, and the utmost consideration has been made about its layout.
2. From the first, Sturrock’s account is marvellously written.  I love the way in which he weaves in different anecdotes from Dahl’s life.  Calling it ‘human’ may sound odd, but it is profoundly so; I have rarely read a biography which does not occasionally become bogged down in details, but Storyteller remains fresh and coherent throughout.
3. Dahl was an incredibly complex man, and Sturrock both realises and understands this.  He has so much respect for Dahl, and is thus the perfect author for such a book.

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Saturday Poem: ‘The Awakening River’ by Katherine Mansfield

The gulls are mad-in-love with the river,
And the river unveils her face and smiles.
In her sleep-brooding eyes they mirror their shining wings.
She lies on silver pillows: the sun leans over her.
He warms and warms her, he kisses and kisses her.
There are sparks in her hair and she stirs in laughter.
Be careful, my beautiful waking one!  You will catch
on fire.
Wheeling and flying with the foam of the sea on their
breasts,
The ineffable mists of the sea clinging to their wild wings,
Crying the rapture of the boundless ocean,
The gulls are mad-in-love with the river.
Wake! we are the dream thoughts flying form your heart.
Wake!  we are the songs of desire flowing from your
bosom.
O, I think the sun will lend her his great wings
And the river will fly to the sea with the mad-in-
love birds.

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‘The Life of Katherine Mansfield’ by Ruth Elvish-Mantz and John Middleton Murry ****

I have read several biographies and biographical works relating to Katherine Mansfield, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite authors, as well as volumes of her own journals and letters.  I thought that this book, told by the man whom she married and spent almost all of her entire adult life – short though it was – with, would be both fascinating and enlightening.  I was intrigued to see which stance John Middleton Murry would take in his recollections of Mansfield’s life.

Katherine Mansfield

Thinking that the majority of this book had been written by Murry, particularly as his name appears first on the volume which I read, I was quite surprised when I learnt that Ruth Elvish-Mantz, an author who I can find little information on, was the main writer of this text.  Murry states in his introduction that ‘at least nine-tenths of the actual narrative’ was penned by Elvish-Mantz.  He states at the outset that, ‘In scope Katherine Mansfield was a tiny artist; but because she was a pure artist, she was a great one’.

The main body of the book has been written almost in a prose-like style, complete with some rather lovely descriptions.  Each one of its chapters deals with a different section of Mansfield’s life, and is subsequently split into short essays.  This makes it a book which the reader is able to dip in and out of at whim without losing the main thread of the story.  I liked the way in which it set out the lives of Mansfield’s ancestors at the start, and the history of how New Zealand came to be an inhabited country.  The social history is strong from start to finish, and the folklore of New Zealand particularly is fascinating.

One of the strengths of the book for me was the way in which the authors spoke about how the experiences which Mansfield went through so influenced her writing.  I very much enjoyed all of the anecdotes and memories from Mansfield’s childhood which were woven in.  The inclusion of fragments of stories and unpublished manuscripts was a lovely touch, and I was pleased that her letters made up great chunks of each chapter and were then built upon by the authors.

Katherine Mansfield and her siblings (From L-R) Charlotte Mary, Vera, Katherine, Jeanne and Leslie Heron

I did not enjoy The Life of Katherine Mansfield as much as I thought I would before I began it.  It seemed lacking in comparison to Ida Constance Baker’s Memories of L.M., which I read last year and adored.  This book seemed more distant somehow, and it was curiously rather emotionally detached.  My least favourite aspect of The Life of Katherine Mansfield was the religious comparisons which were made between Mansfield and Jesus and the like throughout.  It was not overly relevant to her story as far as I am concerned.  I also did not like the way in which people were referred to using different names throughout – for example, Katherine’s eldest sister, Charlotte Mary, was called Charlotte, Chaddie and Marie on separate occasions.  This gave the book no sense of constancy throughout.  Some of the quotes included which have been written or spoken by other contemporaries or critics of Mansfield’s have not been attributed to their authors.  The end of the volume felt very rushed too.  There were also a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes within the Kindle edition which I read, which was a real shame.

Despite this, I am still giving The Life of Katherine Mansfield a four star rating because it contains so much of Mansfield’s beautiful writing, and it is well put together.  If you have not read a biography of Katherine Mansfield before and would like to, however, I would recommend searching out Claire Tomalin’s Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, or the aforementioned Ida Constance Baker’s The Memories of L.M, rather than this one.

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