Written by: Sharron Came
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson
Wellington-based author Sharron Came serves up a slice of true rural New Zealand in her captivating debut novel Peninsula. Every sentence is layered with small details that reveal more about the families and characters at the heart of the book and make the characters almost appear in front of the reader.
At first glance it appears to be an homage to a way of life in Northland that’s stayed the same for many decades, affected only by the changing seasons. Stoic Jim and Di Carlton have been running their farm forever and will be there until they die. But then the stories of new characters are interwoven – there’s their former daughter-in-law Kiri who moved back to Northland for family and seems trapped there, and her tree-loving school friend Ritchie who’s moved to Brisbane to run an ecology consultancy and has returned to connect with friends. Jim and Di’s daughter Rachel Carlton has been working as a lawyer in Europe and returns to the small community of Hereford instinctively, even though she feels the ties binding her may “slowly choke the life out of her”.
Small changes start to creep in like the new subdivisions encroaching on the edges of the village and farm bringing urban life, complete with electric vehicles, closer to their rural idyll. Then as you get further into the book the sheen starts to come off the perfect rural lifestyle, as we’re introduced to characters struggling with marriage breakdowns, meth addiction, and children who have disappeared or died.
The plot and the pace meander, so roll with it and enjoy the slow unfurling of the characters one by one.
I haven’t read a book that captures the people, conversations, and lives of rural New Zealanders as well as this. It transported me right back to the interactions and experiences I had when I lived in rural Canterbury. Peninsula is a beautifully written book rich in detail and full of complex, multidimensional characters that will stay with you.