Why look to fiction to take the temperature of a country? You might as well ask the canary to issue a detailed report into working conditions in the coalmine. The task of the writer is to sing her own song, which may be entirely at odds with the atmosphere in which she finds herself.
And yet: these three stories alert us to something in the air in Aotearoa New Zealand. The barometer swings, conditions change, and people are buffeted by circumstance, challenged by fresh strangeness. The location of each story is absolutely local – we know where we are – but the threat is diffuse, worldly, universal.
As always, it’s an interesting time to be a writer in New Zealand. We are all luminaries now, writing not in the shadow but by the light of Eleanor Catton’s brilliant success, which blazes like a signal fire on the beach. Not a problem, to use the vernacular. We’ve been here before, with Katherine Mansfield’s ‘little lamp’, and we’ll be here again. Engaging the world beyond our shores, tangling with its cultural economies, and then plunging back into the hinterland, the harbour, the bare cupboard, mining our own dark past – and present and future – for literary gold.