You know this could be the first bit of “New Zealand literature” I’ve ever read? I have a couple of Barry Crump books, but I think they’re considered too low-brow to be lit.
And it was thoroughly enjoyable. Shadbolt has an easy writing style that lends itself to the telling of short stories (this volume is a collection), and he weaves an admirable range of tales about New Zealand and New Zealanders set comfortably between the Depression and the 1960s.
If I had any criticism though, it’s that I struggled to see the uniquely New Zealand aspect of the characters and settings? It could be that I read this over a number of sittings, so the flow of the stories was disjointed for me, or it could be that Shadbolt wrote them over a number of years? Most likely though, it’s just that some of the behaviours of his characters are so intrinsically Kiwi that I can’t recognise them as unique.
It might also be that many of the characters really are dislocated Britons discovering that they no longer fit into a British mold. The landscapes are still relatively alien in the book, a weird superimposition of Europeans mores and ways on Aotearoa, and the characters themselves seem to become more alien because of it. It’s a weird juxaposition,and one that Shadbolt explores easily and without prejudice.
Moreover, the types of personal habits he describes seem to be fairly adventurous for the times. Many characters are gay, promiscuous, or somehow distinguished, and this also creates an ‘edginess’ that keeps the reader engaged.
So all in all, probably a visionary set of stories. And recommended.