Review: Casting Off by Elspeth Sandys

This review was first published in Landfall Review Online on 1 March 2018.

Elspeth Sandys has had many names. Born Frances Hilton James in 1948, she became Elspeth Sandilands Somerville on the occasion of her adoption into the prominent Dunedin Somerville clan at the age of nine months. The circumstances of her birth and adoption, and their impact on her childhood, were the subject of the first volume of her memoir, What Lies Beneath, published in 2014. 

The second volume, Casting Off, starts with another name change. With her first marriage in late 1960, Elspeth inexplicably took on not only her husband’s surname, but a new first name as well – Susan. ‘Till recently,’ she writes, ‘I believed this new Christian name was given to me by my young sisters-in-law, Elspeth being too much of a mouthful, but they have assured me they had nothing to do with it. So the question of who bestowed the name on me, and why, remains unanswered. As does the question of why I agreed to it …’

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Review: Tess by Kirsten McDougall

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 7 September 2017.

Tess

There’s something about the Wairarapa. Big skies. Beautiful old villas. Close-knit communities, with a pointy edge of small town meanness. There’s also something about the dying days of 1999, that strange, tense moment before we ticked over into the 21st century, when just for a moment it felt like the world might end.

Perfect time and place to set a gothic novel. So we’re on a country road just outside of Masterton, in the rain, a few weeks before the end of 1999 when Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall opens Tess, her second book. Tess is 19, on the run from something, living out of a pack, not eating much and about to fall drastically ill. Lewis Rose, the local dentist, picks her up and gives her a ride into town, where she gets hassled by some errant youths on the street. Lewis intervenes and takes her home to one of those beautiful villas under the big sky. Beautiful, yes, but dusty and disheveled and the garden has run wild. There’s something not right about the garage.

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Review: The Suicide Club by Sarah Quigley

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 11 July 2017.

Image result for The suicide club sarah quigleyLast week’s “Break the Silence” series by Olivia Carville in the New Zealand Herald was intended to start a national conversation about youth suicide. Are we not already having that conversation? From my own high school days, some 20 years ago, I remember much handwringing and hyper-vigilance about peers who were at risk of self-harm; we all talked about it then. These days we have 13 Reasons Why, (everyone’s talking about that) and news media are slowly but surely breaking down the legal wall that prevents them reporting in detail about suicide. Yet suicide is still, according to the blurb on the back of Sarah Quigley’s new novel, the “last taboo”, and in The Suicide Club she is the latest to enter the conversation.

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Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 27 April 2017.

Roxane Gay is good at opening sentences. Examples from her first short story collection, Difficult Women: “The stone thrower lives in a glass house with his glass family.” “When I was a young girl, my husband’s father flew an air machine into the sun.” And my favourite: “We are having a heated debate about whether or not yogurt can expire when my husband suggests we stay together but see other people.”

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