Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A new (old) sensation

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  • Jolisa, in reply to Cecelia,

    Why do we all love the 10 PM Question so much? Is it because of its warmth? Its gradually revealed psychological truth? The way we can definitely relate to the main character?

    I reckon the reviewer for the Herald (John McCrystal? Cannot find the link, alas) was right to observe that Frankie and Gigs seem much more likely to appeal to the parents of pre-teen boys (in fact, I think he specified mothers), than to those boys themselves. In that sense, it might be a wishful/wistful novel about young adults as much as a realist novel for young adults.

    But still: yes, very warm, humane, and buttressed by the gradual accumulation of psychological truth. Here's how I argued it in my Landfall review ...

    --
    What is the audience for young adult novels? It’s an elastic category, embracing both those on the cusp of adulthood and adults who recall being young. Also, crucially, people in both groups who simply enjoy the YA vibe: numinous, nostalgic avant-la-lettre, yet gritty and subliminally threatening. It helps to have a stomach for whimsy and a head for archetype. The genre deploys elements from myth and fairytale with cheerful abandon, and borrows liberally from its own well-furnished canon.

    Viz.: the fey, slightly out-of-it dad. The benevolent, marauding pet, a friendly daemon to our protagonist. A secret language. The trio of wise aunties (played in the movie version, in my head at least, by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, and Keri Hulme). And of course, the aunties’ marvelous old house, an enchanted “children’s paradise” complete with garden, where Frankie seeks refuge when his fiercely guarded inner keep begins to crumble.

    Out of these familiar tropes, de Goldi has smelted something original and gleaming. If the action takes a while to get started, it doesn’t matter, since we get to pass the time with characters who are charmingly persuasive in their relations with each other and their world. The rituals that Frankie and Gigs perform on their daily walk to the bus are hilarious. Equally, the portrayal of how a family carefully shapes itself around one member’s trauma is careful and convincing.

    As Frankie’s painful yet graceful quest for self-knowledge wound towards its climax, I began to feel that gratifying goose-bumpy sensation of inevitability. Sure enough, the final pages were at once shattering and soothing, high-stakes and perfectly low-key: Frankie broke through his own frozen inner sea, and my critical spectacles steamed right up. Ice-axe in one hand and thermos in the other, de Goldi shows us how it’s done.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Cecelia,

    Decades ago I read Albert Wendt’s Under the Banyan Tree and can remember nothing about it except that I wanted a Maori village to be given the same novelistic treatment.

    You know, that's what I sort of hoped one of our leading novelists would do with his retirement from the university: go back to the source, with sharpened pencil and decades of worldly wisdom. But, whatever, song cycles based on poems, sure. Who am I to say what people should write??

    And on a completely different note. The Last Werewolf reviewed in last week’s Listener sounds like a must-read.

    Yes, doesn't it? Will put it on the list with Islander's promised the were people (!!) and also Hamish Clayton's Wulf, which I have only read the opening pages of but which is blowing my mind in multiple, exciting ways. It's literary and it leaps off the page and it's strange. Great stuff.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    Frankie and Gigs seem much more likely to appeal to the parents of pre-teen boys (in fact, I think he specified mothers), than to those boys themselves.

    Maybe more so, but I would put a strong vote in for parents of pre-teen girls, and specify fathers, or at least this father.

    Stories about children that grow up sensitive to, and aware of, the world around them are worthy of a wider audience, IMhO. The other reason I think we loved it was because it was so damn well written. As was Karen Healey's.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn, in reply to Jolisa,

    Oh you're right, Jolisa. Slip of the mind there. Fleur Adcock it is!

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Well, if this is morphing into a general book club kind of thread, my main fictional discovery over the past year has been David Mitchell - I devoured Cloud Atlas, raced on through Black Swan Green, and am about to start on Ghostwritten. How many novels have their opening scenes on the Chatham Islands?

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2008 • 662 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    i feel the same way about most nz short films. Well i used to and then i stopped watching them, that helped a lot.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 493 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Sue,

    "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Well, don't do that then."

    A very sane approach! But the patriotic force is strong. And there is such good stuff out there, it's worth panning for gold...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Jolisa,

    Jolisa - Andris has a site (google Andris Apse, or I can send the address) which has a section called "Galleries": in that is something called "The Okarito Project" which he accomplished in during the year 2007 - a photo of everyone resident in the village that year, in their homes, all taken from the same camera, at the same height & angle. No need to buy the book!*

    *Because there isnt one actually! There has been talk round Big O about setting up a site to sell sort of print-on-demand copies of the exhibition (because that's what it was) but not everyone is keen on this...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Jolisa,

    And there is such good stuff out there, it's worth panning for gold...

    Plus if the gold is not found you can just pan. It's win-win for the reviewer! (Except, not you because you're too nice.)

    The Okarito Project" which he accomplished in during the year 2007 - a photo of everyone resident in the village that year, in their homes, all taken from the same camera, at the same height & angle.

    This sounds great! I couldn't find it on the website though, maybe he changed the configuration? Or I'm just a klutz.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7386 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Islander,

    Aha, thank you - the Okarito Village Project pictures are, of all places, on Facebook.

    And there you are, surrounded by books! (Is it silly that I feel like waving?)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Apologies Giovanni! I should've remembered it was Andris's Facebook page...

    And Jolisa!So that's what was fluttering at me from inside the Mac's screen!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Plus if the gold is not found you can just pan. It’s win-win for the reviewer!

    Chortle.

    (Except, not you because you’re too nice.)

    Except sometimes, when I'm not.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Jolisa,

    And there you are, surrounded by books! (Is it silly that I feel like waving?)

    Wonderful!

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7386 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn, in reply to Jolisa,

    Except sometimes, when I’m not.

    But always so readable. I enjoyed those, and realize that by not getting the Listener any more, I'm missing something rather splendid.

    Love your work!

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Jolisa,

    Except sometimes, when I'm not.

    I didn't mean that you don't pan, rather that you don't strike me as the person who would count it as win. For instance I seem to recall you were positively pained by having to remark how clunky The Trowenna Seas was - which goes entirely to your credit incidentally.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7386 posts Report Reply

  • st ephen, in reply to Islander,

    I'm not surprised that not everyone is keen on publishing! Looking though the exhibition in Okarito this summer felt a little stalky, but at least it went two ways - I was very conscious that some of the people in the photos were almost certainly watching us go in and out of the building, it not standing right behind us in the room. In a big city gallery, on Facebook or in a book the vibe would be very different.
    Still, the project does present an interesting (or sad) transition from South Island from the Road kitsch, to knowing retro-Kiwiana to generic glossy House magazine.

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 204 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    I was so absorbed in clicking through the Okarito photos, that even though I was standing right next to the stove, I burned a batch of chocolate chip bickies. (I'm not complaining; my compliments to the photographer!). Those are real houses; we don't often see people in their domestic contexts like that, without a vast amount of staging.

    And that one glimpse of the beach beyond? Wow.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Fergus Barrowman, in reply to Jolisa,

    “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Well, don’t do that then.”

    I'm finding this thread somewhat disheartening. I thought being disappointed sometimes was just what happened if you weren't completely safe in your reading choices? We've had a very open publishing environment for the last 20 or so years: publisher hunger for new writers has seen an awful lot of them into print, but it's as if none of them have made an impression.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2009 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Fergus Barrowman,

    Are we just getting old, and have read too much? I admire even hack writers who crank out dross, frankly. It's a very difficult job, you have to practice heaps and get constructive feedback, putting up with stuff-all pay for something so insanely demanding.

    That said, I don't read much fiction. My main reason, however, is because it takes major time. I'm a fan of speculative stuff, and when I get an author I like, I won't put them down until it's done. The behavior is much the same as when I've developed an addiction to computer games, something I'm as wary around as a reformed drunk is around booze. I've deliberately not kept up with Robin Hobb because I lost a week's productivity on her first trilogy.

    Practically the only fiction I'm reading is e-books on Gutenberg before sleep, something that comes extremely fast when I do this (and is part of the reason I do it). But admittedly the same has been happening with cinematic fiction recently too - I'm dozing off during films now, even good ones. Got too much to do, need the sleep.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    it’s as if none of them have made an impression.

    Few?
    None is a little harsh :) (And some have made a… negative impression)

    Are we just getting old

    There is this, too. We do become harder to astonish, delight, transport. And, after a few decades of reading our way through, if we choose, a few hundred years of the world's greatest writing, this month's pick from NZ can come to appear increasingly slight.
    But we also rely on it being there- and need to remember that new generations of readers are picking their way along their own paths. They need the native plantings :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1574 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    That's somewhat cheering, Rob. Native plantings is a nice way to think of it. And our native plants can be temperamental, seasonal, fickle; the cabbage-tree bug that looked like an epidemic before we figured it out; the kauri cones that contain so many seeds, and yet how many grow into a new tree?

    On the other hand, we do need the kereru to chew on the seeds and, ahem, distribute them here and there, to ensure continued vitality of our forests.

    Not sure where your humble book reviewer fits into this metaphorical scheme :-)

    To help cheer Fergus up, too, I suspect the people who are reading and enjoying local literature are far too busy doing so to even bother glancing at this thread. Aren't they?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I'm pretty sure your horizon wasn't 20 years either. And it didn't include short stories, did it? Expressing less than unbridled enthusiasm for the homegrown novels published over the last 2-3 years doesn't seem a devastating proposition to me.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7386 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Belatedly, for Emma (and in a further attempt to restore Fergus's equilibrium) some library ladders to fantasise about.

    Also, a secret library door, and the ultimate bibliophile's staircase.

    ETA: place protective drool-resistant cover over keyboard before clicking above links.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Jolisa,

    I suspect the people who are reading and enjoying local literature are far too busy doing so to even bother glancing at this thread. Aren't they?

    Yes, we're under-represented in the YA field. I try to keep this constantly in mind in all discussions, because YA are (in my case) the next generation, not at all far from being the movers and shakers in NZ, so I'd like to know what to expect.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I also blame the blogosphere for stealing my reading time. A dialectic is 100 times more engaging to me than passive absorption of data, either in book or televized form.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

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