I’ve featured some of my favourite New Zealand books. New Zealanders are great readers, and we have some wonderful writers, though a tiny publishing industry, so we’re probably missing out on many more great books. I’ve written elsewhere how liberating it is to read about our own country, our own people, after years of being fed books from the UK or US, and it is still a thrill. Yet because we are also great travellers, a lot of local authors set books overseas, in London or New York or Ireland or Italy, sensibly appealing to a wider commercial audience.
A lot of people say New Zealand literature is bleak, dark. But, unlike our tourism industry, our literature shouldn’t focus only the attractive parts of our unique land, and so there are dark books about the underbelly of society, alongside all the other possibilities, including gorgeous children’s books, fantasy, light and funny books.
I find it too hard to pick out individuals, as I’m well aware that I have gaps in my reading of New Zealand authors. I’ve already mentioned CK Stead and Nigel Cox, Keri Hulme and Eleanor Catton, and Rachel King. I’d add to that list of serious writers Lloyd Jones (Mr Pip), Witi Ihimaera (The Whale Rider), Maurice Gee (In My Father’s Den), Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors), and Emily Perkins, Craig Marriner, all enlightening, interesting, though there are many more. I’m sure to have forgotten some key names.
But there are a few I’ve read, and really loved, who also deserve a mention. William Brandt wrote The Book of the Film of the Story of My Life, and it is a favourite of mine, funny and weird, set in London, New Zealand and Vanuatu. Elizabeth Knox has written many books, including The Vintner’s Luck (which became a film) but my favourites are her fantasy Dreamhunter books. Kate de Goldi writes books for children and teenagers that are equally adored by adults (and our book club), writing from a child’s perspective, but with subtle commentary on adult themes too. Look for The 10 PM Question.
And Sarah-Kate Lynch has written 12 gentle but funny books, set all over the world, because – as she explains – this is a good way to make her trips tax deductible business expenses. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers is light, sweet and funny, based in Ireland. But she has an ability to go deeper, with sensitivity, in On Top of Everything. Her memoir about turning 50 was Screw You, Dolores. She likes cocktails. I wish she was my friend.