Title: The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Author: Joan Stevens

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1966

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Sylvia Johnston

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Two "Pops"

Two "Pops". Two recent novels exhibit neatly the way in which the writers of popular entertainment exploit history for their own ends. Frank Bruno's Black Noon at Ngutu, 1960, is yet another tale of the Taranaki War, a sadistic blood-and-guts yarn of the tough he-man type. Bruno has been soldier, cartoonist, journalist, boxer, page 89 seaman, and according to the blurb "writes about fights and fighters in unique bare-knuckle competent prose". This involves plenty of blasphemy, as well as the cliches of the literature of violence, "mashing fists", "alert as a cornered cougar", "you b—— b——s". Both this novel and his earlier one The Hell-Buster, 1959, offer good value for your money if that is what you like—savages, mutilation, beer, guns, bashings, bosoms, tohungas, E hoa! py korry, flaying alive in full Technicolor, drinking of the blood of victims, gouging out of eyes, screams, biting your enemy's throat in half, and so on. You don't have to go to history to write like this, of course, but it provides, perhaps, some fresh possibilities.

Exploitation of the feminine kind is not so strongly flavoured, and may be seen in a novel such as Dorothy Eden's Sleep in the Woods, 1960. Most of Dorothy Eden's stories are thrillers, but in this venture into history—her second, counting a bad first novel in 1940—she writes a skilful Cinderella romance also set in Taranaki at the time of the Maori Wars. (What would our romancers have done without the wars and the Maoris?) The basis of the novel is not any attempt to evoke or to understand the past, but just the wish to place a strong love story in a setting likely to be attractive to overseas Eden fans. There is a lot of elaborate, erotic skirmishing. Unlike the men, however, the women writers avoid blasphemy and bashing.

Of this same exploiting type, but with much more strength in the writing, and with some historical flavour and knowledge of maori-tanga, is Olga Stringfellow's Mary Bravender, 1960. Her heroine gets involved with the Hauhau troubles, as well as marrying the wrong man, and then taking the whole book to come to terms with the right one. But the story has verve, and some sense of period.