Worth a Look
Books, books, books...
By Brannavan Gnanalingam
(Lawrence & Gibson)
The fifth novel by Wellington-based author Brannavan Gnanalingam has a fairly simple premise: Sita, a Tamil refugee, is trying to get to her cleaning job in Wellington city during a once-in-a-hundred-years storm. If she doesn’t make it, she will lose her contract.
The book takes the form of a quintessential quest narrative: the characters of Lower Hutt and Wellington come to life in a series fleeting interactions that form the basis of Sita’s physical journey into the city over one afternoon and night. Public transport is unavailable, the rain is beating down, and it’s this cast of strangers – rough sleepers, ex-cons, delinquent teens – that give the novel momentum as Sita stumbles on desperately towards a goal that seems less and less appealing as the story progresses.
Sodden Downstream is both a love letter to the Hutt Valley and a moving critique of power and privilege in Aotearoa. Its beauty lies in Gnanalingam’s ability to unpack the subjective and situate Sita’s individual struggle within a wider society that is also grappling with its collective identity.
The New Animals
By Pip Adam
(Victoria University Press)
Pip Adam is one of New Zealand’s most exciting writers, with a fresh voice and sense of style that is on full display in her second novel, The New Animals. Adam won the NZ Post Best First Book award for her debut novel, Everything We Hoped For, and has since had an interesting career teaching writing workshops in universities and prisons, as well as hosting the Better Off Read podcast.
The New Animals begins as a book about fashion: Generation X of the fashion scene collide with the new millennials of the industry in Auckland over the course of one day and night, and the tone is equally funny, flighty and terse. Intergenerational tensions simmer, and Adam’s characters rise well above the level of archetypes.
Unfortunately it’s impossible to explain why this book goes so much further than its foundations from around two-thirds into the narrative. It’s safe to say that something utterly unexpected occurs, and the novel takes a turn for the very strange and wonderful. Any further explanation could spoil the surprise of a truly inventive story.
Our Future is in the Air
By Tim Corballis
(Victoria University Press)
Time-traveling fiction typically involves some speculative intent to understand the future via the learnings of the past. What, then, should we make of Tim Corballis’ fourth novel, Our Future is in the Air; a novel that takes time travel as a counter-cultural pursuit of an alternative mid-70s and projects a future – near our now – that asks us to consider how well our hopes and intentions map onto the futures we’re trying to design.
In Corballis’ world, portents of the future prevented 9/11 by abandoning global air travel and never building the twin towers. The political optimism of 70s New Zealand pervades the text, which is supplemented by officialised ‘documentary’ information that reminds of the accumulated sourcing of investigative journalism.
It’s not an easy read, and it demands critical attention and patience at times, particularly for those not fully sold on sci-fi. But give it a little and you’ll get a lot in return.