Friday, June 29, 2012

Touchstones - a memoir from James McNeish

Memories of People and Place

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Mark Twain quote above appears between the title page and the contents page.Typical droll wit from the author!

This surely is an unconventional memoir.   As a young man James McNeish left Auckland a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter; he returned to New Zealand ten years later having met along the way nine people who influenced his life, making him the writer he was to become.  But then “something happened”.
“It was meant to be a character sketch told through the eyes of others,” he says, “but it turned into something else:  an exploration of my Maori background with strange echoes of an unremembered past.  Everything else I’d intended to include got left out.”   We should be grateful.  Back in New Zealand, the author rediscovers a mysterious aunt.  She takes centre stage and introduces us, among other things, to a case of Maori “treason” which has yet to reach the history books.
The book has a cast which includes “the Mother Courage of the English theatre”, an anti-Mafia reformer in Sicily, a Kanak revolutionary who is assassinated, and the incendiary New Zealand poet Denis Glover.  All are larger than life. Some, like the author’s Maori aunt, are good enough to bottle.  

Touchstones is witty, poignant and in the words of its editor, Emma Neale, “rich in astonishing anecdote”.  It is both a self-portrait and a hymn to a vanishing New Zealand.The Bookman reckons it is a gem.I like the fact that it looks and feels good as well as being superbly written.(Neither hardback nor paperback but rather a bendy book). 
McNeish is without doubt one of our literary giants.  

About the author:
JAMES McNEISH, novelist and biographer, lives in New Zealand. He is the author of twenty-five books and plays. In 2010 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction. He was knighted for services to literature in 2011.
Author photo right - by Helen McNeish

Touchstones: Memories of People and Place
James McNeish
RRP: $29.99
Released: 6 July 2012
Imprint: Vintage

And an invitation for you:

James McNeish, Random House New Zealand
& Unity Books invite you to celebrate the launch of
Memories of People & Place
By James McNeish

Thursday 12 July 6.00pm
At Unity Books 57 Willis Street, Wellington

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