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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 6 (September 1939)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 41

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

The day of the great New Zealand novel is drawing nearer. Several attempts to achieve the long awaited book have been made over the last two years, easily the best being G. B. Lancaster's “Promenade.” Notable reprints of “The Story of a New Zealand River” (Jane Mander) and “The Greenstone Door” (William Satchell) have also suggested that New Zealand publishers and the New Zealand public are anticipating the big event. The latest in the field is “Castles in the Soil,” by Beryl McCarthy (A. H. & A. W. Reed). In more expert hands this story might have been an achievement. Actually the book must be welcomed as an important addition to the New Zealand novel library. It is an ambitious and meritorious attempt to tell a New Zealand story against the colonial background of sixty years—from the pioneer ‘fifties to the post-war period. To do this in the compass of 100,000 words is a tremendous task. Although the reader may find himself at times somewhat bewildered among the host of characters and the swift succession of events, the story loses none of its interest on this account. Had the promise of the first three chapters been sustained “Castles of the Soil” might have issued a strong challenge to G. B. Lancaster's “Promenade.” Obviously the author was influenced in her style in the opening chapters, which are very reminiscent indeed of “Promenade.”

The story opens at Port Nicholson about the year 1854 when Ned Cederholm, the whaler, marries Ann Meek, the colonial governess. Their brief and happy married life is cut asunder by the events surrounding the Hau Hau massacre. The author is at her best in dramatic skill in describing this terrible happening. Three children are left of which Mary is the most interesting and lovable character. It is around these and their children and children's children that the story develops and concludes. The main action of the plot is in the country surrounding Napier and the town itself. The Maoris and the problems created concerning their dealings and inter-marrying with the pakeha, are dealt with in an interesting and sympathetic manner. The country scene is colourful and true, the character delineations are interesting and there are many exciting and amusing situations of human interest. This is one of the most interesting and honest attempts yet made to write a worthwhile New Zealand novel.

* * *

I know of only two or three New Zealand writers who have ever broken into the select pages of London “Punch.” One of them is Miss Alice Kenny whose booklet of verse “The Good Goblin” has recently been published by A. H. & A. W. Reed. Miss Kenny has a rare fancy in writing and it is revealed in several ways in the fifty or so verses in this book.

* * *

If there is one standard selling catalogue among the booksellers in England it is from Maggs Bros. They have been in the business for over eighty years and “bought from Maggs” is almost a stamp of authenticity in the realms of rare editions. I was interested, therefore, to receive a few days ago an artistically produced booklet giving the history of the famous firm. The book was issued coincident to the firm shifting to new premises in Berkeley Square. Now after reading of the treasures stored in this 18th century building, one of my great ambitions is to enter the portals of No. 50 and “browse” there, not for an hour or a day, but for a week or more. I believe that the Turnbull Library has a wonderful collection of beautifully bound Maggs catalogues extending over many years.

Professor Arnold Wall—as pictured by “Frith” of the Sydney “Bulletin.”

Professor Arnold Wall—as pictured by “Frith” of the Sydney “Bulletin.”

* * *

“Art In New Zealand” for June, displays in beautifully produced pictures in colour and black and white the work of several New Zealand artists of note. Of interest on the literary side is the publication of the winning poem in the annual “Art in New Zealand” Verse Competition. The honour, apparently well-deserved goes to Helen Brookfield, a booklet of whose poems was published recently. A daughter of Helena Henderson, of Christchurch, also secures honours in the competition. Other poems, articles and art notes make up an attractive issue.

* * *

A booklet of historical value has just been published by Messrs. A. H. & A. W. Reed, under the title of “The Fight at Ruakituri.” In it Mr. Russell Duncan places on record an obviously faithful account of the Ruakituri affair on which occasion it will be remem- page 42 page 43 bered Colonel Whitmore suffered a defeat at the hands of Te Kooti, which reverse, it is stated, paved the way for the Mohaka massacre. Incidentally the booklet discloses errors in pictures in two well-known New Zealand books. The booklet is a necessary addition to any New Zealand historical library.

* * *

I had a letter recently from Dr. Kalidas Nag, the Indian scholar who visited New Zealand last year. He is very interested in the Centennial and in his capacity as Director of the India Bureau, an International Society for Cultural Federation, is in a position to do great publicity work in this respect. In his letter he refers to Rabindranath Tagore who, he said, is in indifferent health these days and is staying on the hills away from Calcutta. Dr. Nag wishes to be remembered in particular to Mr. J. W. Heenan and Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Andersen.

* * *

Eric Ramsden tells me that his life of Busby should be published later in the year. Lord Bledisloe is writing the introduction, and the book is dedicated to Dr. Peter Buck. This will be the first life of Busby to be published and will run to about 150,000 words.

* * *

One of the busiest of State Departments at the moment is that dealing with Centennial publications. Having been privileged to peep behind the scenes I can enthuse with confidence over the remarkable series of books and brochures to be published shortly. Fourteen books, each of about 30,000 words, about thirty beautifully produced brochures, the biographical dictionary and Centennial atlas, comprise the biggest publishing enterprise of its kind attempted in the British Dominions. The Hop. W. E. Parry and Mr. J. W. Heenan are the inspirational forces, the editor is Mr. E. H. McCormick, and the illustrations and lay-out editor Mr. J. D. Pascoe.

* * *


“The Mystery of Swordfish Reef,” by Arthur W. Upfield (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) definitely establishes this author as one of the most popular writers of detective fiction in Australia. In the story we meet, once more, Napoleon Bonaparte, otherwise known as “Bony,” the likeable and shrewd half-cast Australian detective. Here we have all the colourful thrills of swordfishing combined with a murder mystery of a most engrossing kind. Obviously the author knows much of the excitement of the swordfishing game, and he tells this part of the story with plenty of dash and colour. “Bony” has a tremendous task in unravelling the complicated murder mystery and at times looks like becoming a subject for investigation himself. Mr. Upfield's style as a writer has developed tremendously in this latest book. He shows great facility in descriptive power.

“Screen Acting,” by Peter Rae (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is a collection of eight booklets published neatly in a cardboard folder, designed to tell the amateur how to pass a screen test. It is a course of study in easily accessible style, telling just what is necessary to prepare for that profession of which Hollywood is the acknowledged kingdom. The necessary mental make-up and its development is outlined, then the physical aspect, and the all-important part that the voice plays.

“The Modern Ballroom Dance Instructor” (1939 Edition) has been published by Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne, in cheap booklet form.

“Foundations, the Building of a Man,” is another booklet from the same firm. It deals informatively with the problems facing a boy in his early ‘teens. The author is Frank R. Kew.

* * *

Shibli Listens In.

Due to arrive here shortly is D'Arcy Creswell's “Present Without Leave,” stated to be one of the most candid books ever written about the Dominion.

Will Lawson has written a novel about Terawhiti with an interesting historical background. He hopes to visit New Zealand shortly.

Jim Bertram, the New Zealand writer whose two books on China were published by Macmillan's and extremely well reviewed, recently left London for the East.