The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Small Town. Several writers besides Booth have satirised our small towns. David Ballantyne, who has been silent on New Zealand matters since 1948, launched an attack in The Last Pioneer, 1963. He brings to Mahuta a London widower with a six-year-old son, and involves him in community and personal dilemmas. Ballantyne's intention is to expose the shortcomings of our casual, beery, and unsatisfying way of life. Unfortunately the enveloping matey boredom that is evoked tends to stifle the reader as well as the hero. "Fiction is more than fidelity," says R. A. Copland in his review in Landfall, June 1963, "and the privilege demanded by a reader is that of having the social facts refashioned within a critical and philosophical imagination." In spite of its humour and keen observation, The Last Pioneer does not lift the reader in this way.
Maurice Gee's The Big Season, 1962, is also full of "ordinary jokers". Its centrepiece is the United Football Club; Rob Andrews, fullback, is a local variant of David Storey's sporting hero, while the lingo spoken is sub-Sargeson modernised. But Rob finds little meaning in the bourgeois round of booze and bawdy which is all his family, friends and town can offer; he rejects them all, football included, for the spontaneous companionship of a safe-breaker and a tart. This page 120 novel has its subtle ironies, but perhaps Gee is neither angry nor rude enough to take his satire to its logical conclusions. A second novel, A Special Flower, has just appeared (1965).