For the last few years I've been making a point of trying to read more books by New Zealand authors (you can check out my summaries of Kiwi reads from 2020, 2021, and 2022 including children's and YA).
Here's how my "homegrown" reading for 2023 panned out.
This was my first novel of the year and what a strong start! Michael Bennett has been getting all sorts of praise for Better the Blood since it came out and with good reason. This is a solid, pacey #YeahNoir outing (very easy to imagine this adapted for the screen - Miriama McDowell as Detective Hana Westerman?).
Bennett keeps the action ticking over and raises the stakes in this page-turner that also has important things to say about modern New Zealand and the history that got us here. What Before you knew my name did for gendered violence, Better the blood does for the ongoing brutality of colonisation.
With a lot of its stories set in Japan this collection will appeal to people who like interesting settings in their reads. I really liked this. The stories jump around a lot but are sort of connected so they feel like snapshots of a larger whole. It's sleazy in places, poignant in others.
Away from fiction and into memoir. There's much about Emma Espiner's life that differs from mine, but where it hits it hits hard, like someone, a surgical registrar perhaps, grabbing something inside and squeezing it. Her observations about being Māori, a mother, and someone working in the New Zealand health system are where she pins things down very sharply and precisely. Her use of language managing to be both lyrical and restrained. Nothing is wasted.
I was dubious of a book narrated by a bird but it's a testament to Chidgey's skill that Tama the magpie always feels like a realistic character. His overhearings of various conversations moves the plot and our understanding of these characters along in a very clever, almost conspiratorial way. I like the way Chidgey creates a believable environment in which the destructive domestic abuse that's at the core of the story and provides a lot of the dramatic tension can thrive. Marnie is a "carer" - the kind of person who would save a dying magpie chick and forgive him (and others) of trespasses. Chidgey carefully shows us that Marnie is someone who can't enforce boundaries for herself, with her mother, sister or husband, Rob. And Rob's life is full of disappointments... the kind he might be inclined to take out on those nearest to him. Despite this dark seam of threat that runs through the book Tama's exploits are also extremely funny. This won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockhams this year and it's easy to understand why - it's my favourite read of the year.
Poetry. Often a short read but not necessarily an easy one. Towards the end of this I just started crying and I don’t even know why, really? But that's poetry for you - peeling up the edges of yourself in sneaky ways! Highly recommended for all your decolonising poetry needs!
Anthony McCarten's Going zero is a really good book if what you're in the mood for is something that will take you on a ride. This is not my usual genre (adventure) but it's a cracking, fast-paced read which reads like a movie (not surprising given McCarten's screenwriting credentials). The story revolves around a competition to test a surveillance system that utilises AI - selected individuals must try and hide for 30 days. If they succeed there's a big cash prize on offer but it unfolds that that's not the real reason librarian, Kaitlyn Day is taking part. Going Zero also features a billionaire tech mogul who, shock horror, might not be the best human! A gripping and fun read.
On the list for next year/summer reads
- Lioness The holds list on this has finally calmed down so now's the time!
- Butcherbird After several years of avoiding horror I'm dipping my toes back in.
- Immortal Longings Chloe Gong writes cracking good reads. This is the first in the Flesh and False Gods series
- The mires - Tina Makereti announced this week that her new novel will be coming out in July 2024! It's so fresh there's not even a catalogue record for it yet!
More New Zealand reads
- Try our New Zealand fiction reading guide for recommended titles in a range of genres
- More posts about fiction by New Zealand authors
- Authors to try if you like Māori fiction
- More "Reading locally" posts