17 January 2014

Rachael's New Year's Resolutions: Australia and New Zealand

Posted by Rachael Beale

As a child, my dogged refusal to lift my nose out of a book for long enough to experience the world through my own eyes was a standing family joke. Trailing in the wake of a petroleum-geologist father, I had an expat childhood; actually being in New Zealand seemed to me a pale substitute for the country I was discovering through the words of its authors. Who wants to admire the boringly extinct volcano that forms Lake Pupuke when Maurice Gee's fabulous Under the Mountain takes you into sinister slime tunnels beneath it, pursued by giant sluglike monsters?

Despite being listed in Julia Eccleshare's majestic 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up - itself no longer in print in the UK - Under the Mountain is difficult to track down in the northern hemisphere. You can have it as a pricy large-print edition, or sell your soul to the Internet Behemoth to read it on a Kindle, but a regular reading paperback? Out of luck. Back in the UK, and beginning to explore beyond the boundaries of the children's department, I became increasingly puzzled that so few titles by New Zealand writers had really travelled across the globe. New Zealand's neighbour, Australia, performs slightly better, but the books we in the UK are able to get hold of represent such a small portion of both countries' literary output.

Eleanor Catton's 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries may go some way towards reminding British publishers that there are great voices, both emerging and established, on the other side of the globe. This year also sees the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts, which in early June will bring a long list of Antipodeans old and new in front of a UK audience. It could be argued that some of them don't really need the additional exposure, but I'm optimistic of finding some new voices alongside the likes of C.K. Stead and Tim Winton.

In the meantime, my main reading resolution for 2014 is to seek out the best Australian and New Zealand writers available to British readers. If you have any recommendations that you don't see on that list, please do chip in with a comment. I'm hoping to discover exciting debuts, and am off to a flying start with Fiona McFarlane's quietly brilliant The Night Guest, which is already picking up some good reviews. I'm also planning to revisit (or in some cases visit for the first time) writers with a more established back catalogue - Peter Carey, Janet Frame, Kate Grenville, Patrick White - that have successfully made the long journey to these greyer climes.

"Greyer climes" - who am I kidding? Wellington does grey better than anywhere.