Tuesday, 17 January 2012

GREAT READS FOR JANUARY 2012


by Julia Kuttner

Faithful Place, by Tana French

faithful placeUndercover Detective Frank Mackey works for the Dublin Police;  he’s very good at his job – and an absolute disaster at personal relationships:  so far, so predictable for readers of suspense novels, but Tana French invests Frank with so much more than the usual Brilliant but Burnt-Out persona -   all too readily adopted by other writers -  that he is like a chilling but welcome blast of fresh and frosty air, holding the reader in his ruthless grip from the start of his story to the finish.
His life so far has had some huge disappointments:  his first love Rosie stood him up without any warning on the night they were planning to run away from their gothically awful families to start a new life in England together, and was never seen again;  his marriage has ended in divorce and the associated recriminations; and apart from his job, his life doesn’t have much focus – except for the precious gift of his daughter, 9 year old Holly .  Frank’s love for her is profound and complete and he constantly blesses the fact that she will never know the horrors of living with an alcoholic Da who terrorized not just Ma, but all five children of that blighted union, and that she has never met his terrible relatives – and nor will she – he thinks.  He hasn’t seen any of his family except his sister Jackie for 22 years,  until a derelict house undergoing demolition in Faithful Place, their street, reveals some secrets that require his professional attention, and to his horror, he finds that Rosie didn’t stand him up after all:  she was murdered.
This book is more than just a who-done-it;  it’s more than the usual tragic family saga of violence and dashed hopes:  it has more layers than an onion, and as each layer is peeled away more insights are given into each character and the terrible reasons for their behavior towards each other.  And before the reader decides that they wouldn’t touch all this tragedy with a barge pole, I’d like to lure them back in with the solemn (!) promise of a laugh on every page:  the uniquely Irish humour which has helped the entire race survive war through the centuries, famine and The Troubles  is here in abundance:  who else but an Irish author could write such great drama, and leaven it with such comedy.  This is a wonderful story:  don’t miss it.

Rangatira, by Paula Morris

RangatiraParatene te Manu was a great warrior, specially trained in the arts of war from childhood.  He fought alongside the ferocious and brilliant Hongi Hika, Nga Puhi Ariki , as one of his Ngati Wai allies and was himself a rangatira of great mana – and he is Paula Morris’s ancestor.  Who better to write an account of the ground-breaking trip he and a group of other rangatira made to England in 1863, but a loving and eloquent descendant  - and she has paid fitting and respectful homage to her forebear in this lovely book.  Paratene’s story is told in a series of flashbacks and reminiscences whilst he sits for his portrait by Gottfried Lindauer, the Bohemian artist who made paintings of many of the rangatira and kuia of that time, and despite Paratene’s offense that their moko was not always correctly depicted – how else were maori to recognize ancestry and region amongst the tribes if not for their moko – he recognizes within the painter a similarity to himself when he went to England:  they are strangers in a strange land.
Fourteen men and women set out on their big adventure in February 1863, under the leadership of Messrs. Jenkins, Lightband and Lloyd, all of Nelson;  the rangatira had signed ‘a piece of paper’ guaranteeing them a sum of money each week, and the opportunity to see the big cities of England and learn about British culture.  After an uncomfortable voyage in steerage on the ‘Ida Zeigler’ – with the attendant weevily food – the party arrived in London, at first to great acclaim.  They were feted by London society and met the Prince and Princess of Wales and Queen Victoria herself, but gradually realized that Messrs. Jenkins et al were collecting a lot of money from people who came to gawk at them;  they were instructed to wear their cloaks all the time whatever the weather and were required to sing waiata and prance about doing the haka at every ‘meeting’.  To add insult to injury, photos of them were sold as postcards, the proceeds being pocketed by Mr. Jenkins:  this was not what they signed the piece of paper for!  Their gradual disillusionment and distrust of their pakeha ‘managers’, combined with the approach of a cruel English winter is beautifully described in Paratene’s voice by Ms Morris:  he is at pains in his narrative to be fair-minded and objective and recounts events to the best of his recollection, but he has to concede  eventually  that the whole exercise has been one of exploitation, principally by Jenkins, hoping to make money from the goggle-eyed voyeurism of the London public and the patronizing charity of liberal do-gooders.  He sums up their situation succinctly:  ‘Jenkin’s mana depended on his association with us, but ours did not depend on him.’ How true.  And how profoundly moving is this true story of people who influenced and shaped the thoughts, minds and directions of our young nation 150 years ago.  Ms. Morris has done her ancestor proud.  Highly recommended.