Booksluts Challenge Read #3: Baby No-Eyes
University of Hawai’i Press
This is another of the Bookslut’s Full Frontal challenge reads, and a kind of personal challenge to myself. I have been guilty for a long time of a bit of a hating of New Zealand fiction – we have this thing called the cultural cringe, where New Zealanders (generally, anyway) used to be horribly embarrassed of anything that came out of here. Things have improved in a major way since I was little (in a far off, distant time known as “the Eighties”) but I guess as a nation, we’re still a little screwed up about it. I liken it to middle child syndrome – not that I know what I’m talking about in the slightest, of course, being an eldest child.
Anyway, enough pop psychology. Grace is a New Zealander, and is so local, that if I drive up the coast about an hour, I could probably go visit her if that wouldn’t be weird or creepy. Which it would. So I won’t be doing that any time soon. The story isn’t really regionally grounded, but is definitely a story based in New Zealand. It’s incredibly good; human, interesting, seemingly personal but not too horribly (i.e, obviously) autobiographical. However, I do wonder how much someone who isn’t very familiar with the politics of race in New Zealand would get from it. I mean, obviously, it’s not that hard to fathom out – I mean, this book did win the Neustadt International prize in 2008.
The story is basically told through a childs eyes, and the story is this; that Te Paania was in a relationship with Shane – they got married, but he was always a bit of a wild one, and she was meant to ‘tame’ him. Then there is a car-crash and events kind of spiral out of control from there. There is a lot of interesting subtext around being ‘good’ in this novel; being quiet, accepting things, not making a fuss if things are done to you that you don’t like, just playing out the hand you’re dealt. But slowly, both Te Paania (and by extention her child, Tawera) and Kura come to the realisation that this ‘goodness’, this unwillingness to stand up for yourself and what you believe in, is what is slowly destroying them. Not only them, but almost their entire people. It’s a beautiful, eloquent book – and if it’s angry in part, its anger with a purpose,
It’s a frickin’ facinatingly written book too, told from multiple perspectives, which I have to confess to being a bit of a sucker for. There is a small amount of Maori language in the book, but nothing that a reader couldn’t figure out using a combination of context and the interwebs. Just as I lurve the use of vernacular spellings and colloquialisms, I totally dig the use of non-English (as it’s found in the dictionary) languages in any book – broadens the mind, you know?
I guess that there is a reason that this book won this fancy international literature prize – it’s just damn good. Thank you, Patricia Grace, for metaphorically punching me in the face for my completely unfounded “dislike” of New Zealand fiction. I have to say that I deserved it. For overseas peoples, I guess that this might be kind of heavy going, and you may find yourself going “what?” occassionally, but hey… isn’t that what literary fiction is all about?