Just so that you know all is well, here are the pair of them, Magnus back in his Red Basket, and catching up on sixteen day's worth of news..
And now a book...
Before I went to New Zealand I checked out some authors I would like to read and complied a list of books I might find while I was out there.
Well now, I got that all wrong. The books were incredibly expensive and I only came across a couple of independent bookshops. Plenty of UK and US authors but the NZ authors seemed a little sparse. Perhaps one of the best bookshops was that located within the university in Christchurch, and the fact that there was a 4.5 earthquake as I approached the counter with a heavy volume of New Zealand short stories should all have been a warning about the overweight luggage fiasco ahead.
In fact probably a good thing that I didn't find too many bookshops now I think about it.
Catherine Chidgey had been one of the authors I had hoped to find but didn't so I ordered a copy of In a Fishbone Church, published in 1999, as soon as I arrived home, just to keep the memories going.
"When Clifford Stilton dies, his son Gene crams his carefully kept diaries into a hall cupboard. But Clifford's words have too much life in them to be ignored, and start to permeate his family's world. In a Fishbone Church tells the story of three generations of the Stilton family, woven together with brilliance and subtlety, spanning continents and decades. From the Berlin rave scene to the Canterbury duck season, from the rural 1950's to the cosmopolitan present, five vivid lives cohere in a deeply affecting and exhilirating novel."
Clifford, a butcher, has died and his effects are being shared around the family. No one wants the diaries so they are foisted on son Gene by his sisters Beryl and Cornelian (Clifford is big on fossils). For some reason, the diary for 1955 has been lost and though whilst Gene will never know its contents Catherine Chidgey shares them subversively with the reader throughout the book.
As well as fossils, there's been a lot of hunting, shooting and fishing in Clifford's life in Christchurch and when Gene decides, after his father's death and his own retirement, to write a survival guide, it is clear that life growing up with his father has equipped Gene well for his project...
'Most of us think of meat when we think of food, and New Zealand is certainly one of he best places to be stranded. Indeed, when we consider that, in a survival situation, protected or endangered species become fair game, I am sure many sportsmen would choose to go missing for a few days! But even if you have never hunted before, animals should always be your first avenue of nutrition. And who knows you may wish to pursue this hobby once you are safely back in the civilized world.'
and Catherine Chidgey cleverly intersperses Gene's writing with the actual moments in his early life with his father.
The gap between what really happened and how Gene recounts it is at times very funny indeed, and also deeply poignant.
Bookhound and the Gamekeeper would have loved the hunting, shooting and fishing stores and the clothes, in fact, another reason for the overweight luggage was the purchase of a coat for Bookhound that was just too perfect to leave behind. The Kiwis don't seem to be in the least bit squeamish or shy about their hunting, an attitude I actually find quite honest and refreshing.
Witness the fence of wild boar pelts we saw along the Otago bike trail.
Imagine the uproar in Devon.
There would be letters of outrage to the papers, and talk of germs and disease and psychologically damaged children.
Clifford seems to have been unapologetic about it all too, and likewise about the extra women in his life as revealed by the 1955 volume of his diary along with the state of his bowels and his pulse rate. He was nothing if not meticulous and thorough in his recording.
Themes of family and secrets and concealment emerge, and how the past creeps up on the present as the narrative flits back and forth in time but to Catherine Chidgey's credit never loses track of itself.
And also detectable, that defining and memorable moment that many of us may have experienced when you are less the child of your parent and more their parent. I think that will make sense if it has happened to you. The family is slowly redefined, tensions emerge, behaviours are explained and Clifford's diary refuses to be silenced, becoming a form of chorus, a commentary as Gene's own life draws to a close.
There is much wry humour here too and I loved all the references to little New Zealand moments...
The tea towel with all the birds of New Zealand (yes I have one)
And I loved the unique references to New Zealand things...
Jandals (flip flops)
Togs (swimming costume)
Chilly Bin (the cool box)
Louis de Bernieres is not wrong with his quote on the cover of my edition of In a Fishbone Church..
'This book is warm, subtle and evocative. You will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading.'
A very good book and going up on the shelf with the Special Books.
If you have read it I would love to know your thoughts..
And any other New Zealand authors to look out for. I have a list but there must be plenty more.