Have you found a bookshop yet I asked him... what's the New Zealand book buzz?
And back came this picture...
Can you find out what they are reading in Wellington right now...
It can be tricky keeping up with another country's literary life but for several years I have subscribed to the regular e mail newsletter from the New Zealand Book Council . Even better specific pages on the website to check out literary connections, and looking at Wellington I see I have a few other relevant authors on the shelves, including Patricia Grace, but it was Alison Wong's recent novel The Earth Turns Silver which came immediately to hand and Alison Wong had won the Janet Frame Fiction Award in 2009 for it.
I wanted something that might offer that sense of place, but truthfully and slap me with a wet kipper for my shallowness, it was also because those butterflies are a gorgeous metallic blue and my eye was in need of delicate little glistening, glimmers of shiny colour too.
Not a difficult read, but a completely pleasurable one, which is in no way meant to detract from the quality of the writing or the storytelling.
I do like a good story and headed off willingly to Wellington at the turn of the 20th century, and could hardly conceal my delight when, true to the blurb, Katherine McKechnie's newspaper editor husband Donald drowned in the drink, of the drink, if you see what I mean... i.e. fell into the harbour whilst three sheets to the wind.
This is a good sign, the book is getting my full attention, I'm bothered about the characters, I want to know what happens next.
Life without the male chauvinist, but with children Robbie and Edie to raise is going to be tough because not only must Katherine discover her own self after years in an abusive and dis-empowering marriage, but she must also try to unravel some of the prejudices that Donald has insinuated into their family life.
Accused of murdering a Chinese man on racist grounds, Donald's friend, the obnoxious Lionel Terry is serving a lengthy prison sentence, but his pernicious influence has taken its toll. Whilst Katherine has inwardly loathed the attitudes, young Robbie had been far more impressionable and the consequences will be far-reaching when Katherine begins a covert relationship with Chinese immigrant Yung.
If even the most free-thinking and emancipated women of the time disapprove, which Katherine's employer, Mrs Newton does, then Robbie with his worryingly entrenched attitudes is not going to take kindly to the man quietly usurping his beloved father's place. As the narrative arcs towards the First World War and Robbie becomes a young man about to head off the the Front...
Enough of the story, As the Earth Turns Silver was a gentle page turner, nothing showy or in your face, no 'Look at me aren't I clever ' about the writing, quiet and beautifully written understatement and I was entranced. It kept my attention with its themes of racism and the rights of women...didn't New Zealand's women get the vote long before anyone else?
But also those deeper questions about the nature of love, home and displacement, of tradition and disapproval and entrenched attitudes.
Anyone who knows Wellington will probably love this for the sense of place epitomised by the street and area names which were sadly wasted on me until I sent out the request...is there a Buckle Street...Cuba Street ?
I've picked up and put down quite a few books of late and all radiating such dazzling displays of a writer's prowess that I've needed my sun glasses on to get anywhere near. They are getting rave reviews and I'll get to them eventually, but of late I have wearied of frenetically paced books, that relentless golden brilliance felt exhausting somehow and I have temporarily set the books aside... yet here I was in search of reading gentleness and completely fulfilled by my discovery of some much less showy silver.