From the myriad possible entry points to blogging about something other than my own novel, I lit upon some exciting New Zealand fiction from two young authors I’ve enjoyed in the past. I’m generally slow to jump on first-book bandwagons, but when I find them both enjoyable and noteworthy I’ll always pick up their second faster.
The first is Anti Lebanon by Carl Shuker. Admittedly I only picked up his first novel The Method Actors, in 2006, because I was deep in my own first draft at the time and wanted to see what a debut novel had to do to win $65,000 (The Modern Prize in Letters from Victoria University of Wellington – didn’t last long, sad to say).
In style, The Method Actors has a rough-hewn edge that I can appreciate, sometimes letting formal conventions lapse as Shuker wrestles to weave the intricate individual narratives into one engaging tale. In truth, not much of the story has stayed with me, except for a moment I came across one striking line –
“Once peoples find themselves both capable and motivated in lying for a cause the concept of truth is immediately anachronism. Superfluous.” (~p 212, ch. “Meredith October 2000”)
There are various other intelligent and feeling things featured around that line on the topic of a hidden massacre of Chinese by the Japanese, a storyline that forms the spine of the book, but damn me if that wasn’t the most worthy single line I had read for a long time. James McNeish recently gave a Janet Frame Memorial lecture where he praised Sarah Quigley and Lloyd Jones (about 20-26 minutes in) as NZ authors with something to say – I say Carl Shuker is one of those authors. He shows a critical awareness when viewing the world and its ley-lines of power. So, however effective the writing in Anti Lebanon, knowing the author and the topic, I am confident I will find it a worthy read.
The second author is Eleanor Catton. Her The Rehearsal is a more recent publication. Like The Method Actors, it featured multiple narratives and is credited with a risky experimental structure. The style is far more polished, however, as sumptuous and seductive as the central arc, that of the goings-on between a schoolgirl and teacher.
Her new novel, The Luminaries, sounds somewhat similar, but taken to the next level. You have a small town instead of school community, a death instead of a dalliance, and a mystery around exactly who-what-why, with the setting of the 1860s gold rush and (I think?) some astrology to boot. Catton is an extremely talented and award-winning writer, and already Booker nominated for this novel, so I’m sure it will dazzle.