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Another Beautiful Day Indoors | Regional News

Another Beautiful Day Indoors

Written by: Erik Kennedy

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

What a breath of fresh air is this collection! With its theme of climate change, expressed in mostly accessible language, it was bound to win my approval. In Another Beautiful Day Indoors, writer Erik Kennedy thankfully doesn’t feel the need to indulge in any of the current fashionable poets’ practices – abuse of punctuation, inexplicable gaps in text, and lengthy obscure prose passages! I like to think his undecorated style is informed by his sense of urgency.

The contents page sets up a list of titles as intriguing as the cover photo of a formally dressed man seated at a desk with his jacket draped over his head. He’s enjoying another beautiful day indoors?

Microplastics in Antarctica is a striking example of the poet’s main preoccupation. “The snow contains a finer snow” is a telling description of microplastics, as is the uncomfortably graphic “Scratch the scalp of civilisation / And bits of it go all over the place”. Our writer even manages to lighten the seriousness of his message by concluding the poem with a whimsical rhyme.

And who wouldn’t be captivated by a poem titled To a Couple Who Had Their Rings Brought to the Altar by Drone at Their Garden Wedding? Is the couple concerned typical? They “are unafraid of the wind, which bucked the drone almost to ringlessness”. “It was just an everyday wind really”, observes the poet, thus pointing up the lack of awareness most of us are still suffering from.

In Shin-deep in Flood Waters, Already Afraid, our poet lets images replace the temptation to hit us over the head with blame or dire warning – which is why his work is eminently readable and palatable. “I’m just in my wellies / gawping at river spillover / out of curiosity”, suggests an onlooker – albeit a concerned one.

Kennedy has chosen a subject of world-changing import for his poetic attention. Not all the poems comment on climate change and the need for action, but I’m not apologising for including here only ones that do.

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel | Regional News

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a rebel

Written by: Jo Morgan with John McCrystal

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

While you may have heard of Gareth Morgan, the famed New Zealand economist and erstwhile politician, and his son Sam the creator of TradeMe, you may not have heard of their family’s matriarch, Jo.

While she may not have the same celebrity as her husband and son, Jo Morgan’s life has been no less impressive. From traveling around the world (including into some pretty hairy hotspots) to climbing the highest mountains, it’s safe to say she’s had a pretty full life.

Dancing with the Machine is an honest, exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that seems more a work of fiction written by Tom Clancy than a down-to-earth New Zealander narrating their past. It is an exciting read, and her honesty and uniquely Kiwi sense of humour make her instantly relatable. Her get-up-and-go attitude made me think about what goals I would like to cross off my bucket list, and I’m sure others will feel the same way after reading this book.

Her stories are unique, and her experiences unforgettable. In North Korea, she wrote about her time with a humanity that news broadcasts and television documentaries have never been able to convey to viewers. A faceless regime suddenly becomes human and instantly relatable as people.

My favourite passages were the ones where she and her husband Gareth worked as a team, and were always there for each other.

I’m afraid that after reading the book, I cannot find a single thing wrong. Although, in my defence, it’s difficult to find fault with anyone who takes life by the horns and goes with it. My only gripe is that now that I’m finished with the book, I want more.

Dancing with the Machine might sound like a funny title, but it’s also a very apt one, not just to describe her love of motorcycles but life itself. We are all dancing with our own machines, and Jo Morgan shows us how to do it.

The Winter Dress | Regional News

The Winter Dress

Written by: Lauren Chater

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Rosea Capper-Starr

Lauren Chater travelled to the Netherlands to research this book, inspired by a real 17th century dress found underwater off the coast of the Netherlands, and it shows. She writes elegantly and concisely, with clear deference to the importance of the history of this dress and how the find impacted those involved. I enjoyed the glimpse into life upon the coastal Dutch island where The Winter Dress is partially set, through the lens of Jo Baaker, our indomitable heroine who is drawn to the discovery of a silk dress that has somehow survived centuries underwater, insulated by mud. Jo is determined to ensure conservation of the precious find while allowing the people of the island to view the gown and be part of its history.

Chater takes several notable women’s names from Dutch history and combines them to make the story a clear imagining, a mere suggestion of what could have been without committing to a historical statement. Chater introduces us to Anna, a young woman left alone in a vulnerable position in 17th century Holland due to the death of her family. Anna is swept up in an opportunity that takes her to live with Catharina van Shurman – based, I assume, on Anna Maria van Schurman, a real-life Dutch artist and intellectual, and Catharina van Hemessen, a Flemish renaissance artist.

Instrumental in advancing women’s education and social rights, Catharina brings a strong theme of feminism as a thread that runs through this book. I found the subtle noting of the power imbalance interesting – Catharina boldly studying, writing, and influencing men of her time while also using Anna as a handmaid, kept silent and in her place, merely hoping to survive.

This thread continues in Jo’s side of the story. As she researches the dress and the potential owners of it, she finds herself casually betrayed by a male colleague, viewing the opportunity to advance his own career as more important than anything else.

The Winter Dress was an enjoyable, if romanticised, read.

The Jane Austen Remedy | Regional News

The Jane Austen Remedy

Written by: Ruth Wilson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book can change a life” runs the subtitle of The Jane Austen Remedy. Readers familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will recognise this re-imagined quote from that book’s opening paragraph.

That a book can indeed change a life is the substance and theme of Ruth Wilson’s unique and highly personal homage to one of our best-loved writers. Into her seventh decade, Wilson became aware of overwhelming feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction, despite a life of academic success and personal happiness.

Her response? To abandon home and husband for a cottage in the Southern Highlands of her native Australia, and there to undertake a re-reading of all of Austen’s novels, viewing them as essentially an antidote for her unhappiness. What could she learn? An extraordinary amount it seems.

Wilson describes Pride and Prejudice as the sunniest of Austen’s novels, enlivened as it is by the personality of Elizabeth Bennett’s gaiety, coupled with her initial refusal to be impressed by Darcy. That this heroine’s journey to wisdom is accompanied – and rewarded? – by a happy romantic conclusion is something Wilson takes to heart.

Emma offers the author the opportunity to be grateful for living in more enlightened times where gender equality is concerned. She admires the way Austen manages, chiefly through irony and dialogue, to cleverly poke fun at ideas about women’s deferential role in relationship with men.

With Sense and Sensibility, Wilson is confronted with yet another chance to reflect and learn. Following her son’s decision to spend time in Israel, she and her family packed up and went to join him. Just as the Dashwood family, following the death of their father, are forced to contemplate resettlement. A forced move, as opposed to a free choice one – yet another cause for reflection and gratitude.

Wilson’s farewell to her cottage and solitary life meant a return to Sydney and a LAT (living apart together) relationship with her husband – an arrangement based on friendship that suited both. I think Jane Austen would have cheered.

Young Mungo  | Regional News

Young Mungo

Written by: Douglas Stuart

Pan Macmillan

Reviewed by: Ralph McAllister

Every so often a book comes along which you know will remain with you, embedded, for the rest of your life.

Such is Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, a follow-up to 2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by the same Scottish author. It will be no surprise if Stuart wins again this year.

Shuggie spent most of his oh-so young life looking after his alcoholic mother and surviving in the poverty-torn Glasgow of the 80s. Now adolescent Mungo faces similar problems with his Mo-Maw Maureen, who loves him dearly – but not as much as the fags, the booze, and the men.

Jodie, the elder sister hopefully university-bound, tries her best but she has her own school and relationship problems. While Hamish the eldest has a career of disasters with drugs, underage girls, and violence, which leaves little time for caring for Mungo.

Then amidst all this chaos Mungo falls in love with James, a 16-year-old Catholic from across the street.  

Now to be labelled queer is similar to receiving a death sentence so the relationship between the boys is hidden yet tender, tentative but delicate and shot through with the beauty of first love.

Their first kiss? It was “like hot buttered toast when you were starving. It was that good”. Think Romeo and Juliet.

Two stories merge and diverge in terrifying and shimmering climaxes where a camping weekend and a pitched playground battle made me scared to turn the pages.

“Be wary of sittin’ among the refuse of other people’s lives”, Mungo is advised.

Mungo and his refusal to succumb to mediocrity moved me to tears, time and time again. The final tears because I did not want this wonderful novel to finish.

Politics in a Pandemic | Regional News

Politics in a Pandemic

Victoria University Press

Edited by Stephen Levine

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The 19th of March 2020 will go down in history as one of the most important dates of the early 21st century. Everyone old enough will be able to look back and remember where they were the day New Zealand closed its borders. I certainly do since I ended up celebrating my 44th birthday in Level 4 lockdown.

Politics in a Pandemic goes through what happened in New Zealand with a fine-tooth comb. Not only do we get a rare behind-the-scenes view of why our Prime Minister and other elected officials did what they did, we also get to see their thought processes throughout that period.

I found the writing very well done, mixed with humor and a great deal of insight. What I liked most was the input from the politicians involved and their brute honestly when it came to what they did, why they did it, and any regrets they had along the way. We get to see them not just as politicians but as people who, whether we agree with them or not, honestly did the best they could with the facts they had access to at the time.

Politics is sometimes viewed as a fairly dry subject, and having the politicians chime in and contribute to the book gave it a personal touch, which helped to lighten the tone.

Facts of the matter are written very clearly and I was able to understand everything without any of it going over my head. I know from personal experience that there was a lot of confusion about how it was all going to work, especially in the early days, so this should help answer any lingering questions you might still have. If you know someone who ever had a grumble about the lockdowns, I think you should pick this up to let them see the other side of the coin, as it were. Definitely worth it.

The Smallest Man | Regional News

The Smallest Man

Written by: Frances Quinn

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Part fact, part fiction, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn tells the story of an unusual man and his perspective on the 17th century reign of King Charles I of England. This is not the story of Charles I or the parliamentarians. It is told through the perspective of Nat Davy, who was called the Queen’s dwarf, and was by her side through two decades that were pivotal for the country and changed England forever. Nat starts as a pet to the young Queen but eventually becomes someone she confides in and whose advice she seeks. He is a fictional character inspired by a real person called Jeffrey Hudson.

There is a romantic plot interwoven into The Smallest Man and a strong theme of friendship and loyalty. But at its heart it’s a historic novel. It’s a good read, an easy read, and a feel-good read. It’s not taxing even though it is about a complex and fascinating piece of history. I also liked that it was history told through the eyes of someone who was different, which made me stop and think.

Nat’s story is an interesting one and he’s undoubtedly the character the reader sides with. However, I also enjoyed reading about these moments in history as the Queen, or a close confidant of the Queen, might have experienced them and particularly through the eyes of Queen Henrietta Maria of France, whom we don’t otherwise read very much about.

However, to borrow a football analogy, this did feel like a book of two halves to me. I was fascinated by the first part of the book where Nat works for the Queen and witnesses history unfurling from close quarters to one of the major players. But the latter part of the book, where he leaves the Queen in France and returns to England, wasn’t as compelling or pacey for me. 

This is an excellent debut novel with a good message about being accepted and accepting yourself.

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces | Regional News

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces

Written by: Laurie Winkless

Bloomsbury Sigma

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces contains myriad interesting facts that explore the intricate nuances of surface science around friction and adhesion and their interactions with the world around us, even on a molecular level. Irish physicist and author Laurie Winkless explores the world of sticky – from Ancient Egypt to the structures on a gecko’s amazing feet – and covers adhesion through surface energy and how some plants are extraordinarily water repellent.

Did you know that oil paint doesn’t dry by losing water, or that Post-it Notes have glue for their glue?

Laurie Winkless takes us on a journey from the Australian Outback and the Resene paint factory in Naenae, through supersonic flight and NASA engineering, to our own households and everyday environment, covering the balance of downforce and friction that helps keep our cars on the road and the (accidentally discovered) Teflon that coats our pots and pans.

While Sticky was interesting, my lack of love for science certainly (and excuse the pun) led to a lack of stickability in reading this book wholeheartedly. I just found it hard to read. So much so, that I roped an unsuspecting household member and lover of science into doing the hard yards with me. This is what he had to say after reading Sticky. “I suspect I was already aware of some of the so-called ‘hard sciences’ written about here. This is possibly why I found the chapter about touch, its features, and how it works so illuminating and full of surprises.”

“If you’ve ever wanted to know how golf balls fly so far, how sharks swim quite so fast, or why superglue was initially considered a nuisance, then this is a book for you.”

He concludes that Sticky is a very rewarding read for the non-scientist in smaller bites, and I tend to agree. Winkless certainly has the expertise and skill to make an otherwise innocuous occurrence entertaining, but it was just not for me.

Translations  | Regional News


Written by: Brian Friel

Directed by: Mary Coffey

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 14th May 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Translations is a play about language, identity, and home set in a hedge school in the town of Baile Beag in County Donegal in August 1833. The tight-knit townspeople speak Irish and learn Greek and Latin from the perpetually drunk Master Hugh (Malcolm Gillett), who has no interest in teaching them English despite the pleas of young Maire (Áine Gallagher). Maire wants to move to America, much to the heartbreak of her long-admirer Manus (Finnian Nacey). When Manus’ brother Owen (Jonathan Beresford) comes back to town with an army of British colonisers, led by the unyielding Lancey (Chris O’Grady), everything changes. Especially when Maire meets a doe-eyed Yolland, aka George (Rhaz Solomon).

Brian Friel’s script is lyrical and intriguing. Actors use English whether their characters speak English or Irish, which means audiences are privy to amusing mistranslations. The most beautiful instance of this, and my favourite scene, is when Maire and George try desperately to communicate their love for one another.

The pacing of the script feels a little off to me, with very slow exposition at the start, then a peak just before a half-time break, and finally action that screeches to a halt just before the climax. Monologues about mythology and folklore are eloquent and passionately delivered, especially by Gillett in the final scene and Marty Pilott as his character Jimmy finally gets engaged to his dream goddess Athena, but they come at times when I want to check in with other characters outside of these moments.

Moments is a good word to sum up this production, with a stunning lighting design (Sarah Arndt, kudos for the fire) that heightens some exceptional performances. Special mention to Helen Mackenzie for her committed portrayal of a non-verbal character and to Solomon for his endearing, near-constant apologies.

Add Amy Whiterod’s set and Meredith Dooley’s costume design to the mix and Stagecraft Theatre has created a vivid and captivating world for Translations to unfold.