Blog description.

Accentuating the Liberal in Classical Liberal: Advocating Ascendency of the Individual & a Politick & Literature to Fight the Rise & Rise of the Tax Surveillance State. 'Illigitum non carborundum'.

Liberty and freedom are two proud words that have been executed from the political lexicon: they were frog marched and stood before a wall of blank minds, then forcibly blindfolded, and shot, with the whimpering staccato of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ resounding over and over. And not only did this atrocity go unreported by journalists in the mainstream media, they were in the firing squad.

The premise of this blog is simple: the Soviets thought they had equality, and welfare from cradle to grave, until the illusory free lunch of redistribution took its inevitable course, and cost them everything they had. First to go was their privacy, after that their freedom, then on being ground down to an equality of poverty only, for many of them their lives as they tried to escape a life behind the Iron Curtain. In the state-enforced common good, was found only slavery to the prison of each other's mind; instead of the caring state, they had imposed the surveillance state to keep them in line. So why are we accumulating a national debt to build the slave state again in the West? Where is the contrarian, uncomfortable literature to put the state experiment finally to rest?

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: Greg McGee’s The Antipodeans – Master Class in Story Telling, But Niggles … (Also Clayton's The Pale North). #NZBooks

[Photo Credit: Upstart Press.]

I don't review a book unless I enjoyed it, so noting this short post barely counts as a review, again - think of it as a note in the margin -  I’m giving Greg McGee’s The Antipodeans a solid eight out of ten: it’s a great read, content summed up well enough by Graham Beattie on his Bookman Beattie blog:

Spanning three generations of New Zealand and Italian families it is vast in its scope and richly peopled with characters of depth & complexity starting with an aging, ailing New Zealand lawyer who returns to Venice in 2014, with his adult daughter to trace his father's Italian Word War 2 friends. The novel then skilfully moves back and forth between 1943-45, 1976 and 2014.

A big powerful, emotional novel, both love story and war story, that will stay with me for a very long time. Stunning. My congratulations to the author on his very fine achievement.

That said for me The Antipodeans was a book of two halves; an apt metaphor given rugby is a central motif. I’m not a huge sports buff, but it’s nice to read the national game in ‘our’ literature, and for those versed in McGee, he’s the obvious choice to bring rugby from the theatre and into novel form. Plus I’ve written one of our (NZ lit) weaknesses can be a literature not set where we live, so a shrewd move (I hope) for sales. Add to this I loved reading a story playing out partly in Oamaru and the surrounds in which I literally live – (don’t panic, plenty of North Island locales as well).

But I think McGee's relative late-coming to the novel, having cut his writing teeth as a playwright, meant the first half held several irritations for me expunged only in the second half by an enjoyable immersion into his storytelling, and as the prose got better, tighter, once he wrote himself in.  I tweeted this about 35% (Kindlespeak) into the book (it's Twitter, excuse the typo):

By irritations I found the opening romancing between Clare and Renzo was too obvious and too told (that it was going to happen, and the tropes leading to it), with the emotions tending at times toward stock (as in stock scenarios, not clichéd language); although by the end of the novel the – avoiding spoilers - relationship was satisfactorily complex, if not as good as the rendering of the war time relationships on which the novel revolves. A different matter was that loose prose which drew my attention to the words on the page and away from the story. There’s a few too many adjectives that are trying too hard early on, and over-use of that male peculiarity for those adjectival –lys. For example:

The boat motored straight at them, slowing slightly, but not enough, she thought, instinctively, looking for the wharf they would surely disembark. Suddenly they were among old stones …


… she’d placed the cup on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and stood in front of him, implicitly challenging him to get on with it …

I realise incredibly picky on my behalf – unfair because I’m in a ruthless edit phase on a project of my own - also subjective (surely), especially when I’m unapologetic on my use of long, complex sentences, (for which I in turn was scoffed by that literary, arrogant & attention deficit end of the Twitteratti – [you bet all prose is political]); but it was enough, in this McGee, and happened enough, to irritate and have me looking at the physical page, not falling into the story between the words from inception as I want to.

And there were some clangers that shouldn’t have got past publisher, Upstart Press:

… and tried to burrow his way back home through the rock. Until mercifully he’d been hit by a piece of shell, it must have been.


… ‘I want to you to know that I’ve gotten help, that I’m clean.’

Almost as if McGee was climbing into the work of writing, starting out a little unpractised, but achieving a tighter prose by the end. The book lacking only a single tighter edit, and rigorous proofing; (I want to continue the opening metaphor by suggesting a coach’s eye from Steve Hansen required, but if that man were to edit as sloppily as his dreadful pronunciation, I reckon we can kick that notion to touch). [Edit: I've just read McGee spent 15 years working on this novel ... I don't think that changes any of my comments; rather, it puts them in the context of a longer time frame.]

So I do protest too much: McGee’s strength is story-telling, and once the narrative tension is wound up through the many arcs The Antipodeans is a consuming tale, which took me over historical ground in wartime Italy, and 1950s New Zealand, I was not familiar with. On a radio interview promoting his book, McGee spoke of the life of a professional writer, during every project having a mind on the next to provide an income: he’s a writer I want to see stay in business, so if you like a saga told well, buy The Antipodeans.

Next onto the reading desk I had planned for Anna Smaill’s The Chimes, but I’m not in the frame of mind for that (yet), plus am holding out on the delights of Rachel Barrowman’s Gee biography until I haven’t got work matters weighing me down – with the collapse of the dairy payout that may not be until April. So I’ve loaded Hamish Clayton’s The Pale North onto my Kindle; from the reviews, excited (noting I didn’t read Clayton’s Wulf, so this is my first reading of him – I love that coming to an author for the first time).

And to close on some good news, my literary manifesto/disquisition on our contemporary literature continues to climb in reads, although if 18,000 words is not within your attention span, you might want to start at the fluff piece literary manifesto II.

Footnote - The Pale North:

Damn. 17% into The Pale North and the words in my mind so far are: over-worked and arty sentimentality. Our individual reactions to a worthy work of art are subjective: some works will transect with our experiences and aesthetics and speak to us, some won’t. There’s a lot of book to read yet, however, as I crustify into my middle age years, I like a starker prose than this, with harder edges.


25% into The Pale North, I retract the above. I'm getting it now, the words occupying my mind have changed to 'aberrant; beguiling; singular talent, and treat'. Also, sentimentality is the point; Mr Clayton has cracked through the crust. Indeed, beginning to view this novel as a stunner. Looks like Wulf remains on the reading list.

Full retraction and review of The Pale North.

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