| Published on August 3, 2012 | The NZ Listener - Issue 3770
De Goldi revisits an earlier Evans argument, presenting the case for Sydney Bridge Upside Down’s central importance to a peculiarly New Zealand strain of fiction: the gothic, slaughterhouse tales whose resonances have been felt in writers as diverse as Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame and Ronald Hugh Morrieson. She recognises, too, “the sing-song voice of the storyteller, evoking a fairy-tale ambience, alerting us to an ‘other’ world and the possibility that nothing is as it seems”. Perhaps it is the fairytale lyricism of Sydney Bridge Upside Down that allows the novel to transcend specific times and places; although the novel is supposedly set in depression-era Hicks Bay, it feels more like a contemporary reinvention of a fabled New Zealand of the past, a stereotypical childhood paradise twisted to darkly menacing ends, its voice imbued with a timelessness that many of Ballantyne’s contemporaries never developed.
Perhaps most obviously, Ballantyne invites comparison to Morrieson. Like him, Ballantyne met with early success, battled alcoholism and died relatively young, largely overlooked in literary terms. And also like Morrieson, he wrote one of the masterpieces of local gothic fiction in the 1960s. Yet whereas Morrieson and his madcap yarns have been well and truly rescued from the literary margins, Ballantyne remains largely unrecognised and unknown, his work sitting oddly adjacent to the canon. Sydney Bridge Upside Down is still, essentially, an obscure novel, perhaps most famous for its long neglect. When the topic of best first lines in New Zealand fiction comes up, Morrieson’s stolen fowls and the cut throat of Daphne Moran that opens The Scarecrow will always rate a mention, but I prefer Ballantyne’s in Sydney Bridge Upside Down. They are arresting:
There was an old man who lived on the
edge of the world, and he had a horse called
Sydney Bridge Upside Down. He was a
scar-faced old man and his horse was a slow moving
bag of bones, and I start with this
man and his horse because they were there
for all the terrible happenings up the coast
that summer, always somewhere around.
Read the rest of Hamish Clayton's considered and thoughtful review at The Listener
And the following from my blog of March, 2010:
This about the biography from AUP's website:
After the Fireworks is the biography of a New Zealand journalist and novelist who believed he 'never really made it' and whose fiction has been too quickly forgotten (he died in 1986). He stands with Ronald Hugh Morrieson as one of the first local novelists to escape from the narrow limits of critical realism and provincial inadequacy.
This is a very readable account of his life by a friend who knew him well and it is also a picture of the worlds of journalism and literary endeavour in the postwar period. It shows his brilliant early start with The Cunninghams, his friendship with Sargeson, the mystery of his interrupted career and the surprise of his sudden late flowering. This sensitive workmanlike book will help to reawaken wider interest in this important writer: his two novels The Cunninghams and Sydney Bridge Upside Down are already seen as classics and his two last novels are of considerable interest.
About the author
Eighteen years after author David Ballantyne's death, his lifelong friend, Bryan Reid, has written his life in an attempt to redress the critical balance and to try to find some reasons for the failure of Ballantyne to achieve the acclaim he deserved in his own country. Bryan Reid was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1926 and is now an Australian citizen living in Melbourne.
He has 'read a lot of books', and has been a professional writer for more than 60 years but could, he says, 'be described as a late finisher, rather than a late starter, in the literary stakes.' 'I wrote my first book when I was aged 19. Fifty-eight years later, this is my second book. The first, written while I was yachting writer for the Auckland Star, was The History of the Sanders Cup, a celebrated New Zealand sailing contest.' He worked as a journalist on newspapers and magazines first in New Zealand and then in Australia, 1949&endash;1952 and in 1959.
He then spent more than 30 years as a public relations consultant in Australia, largely editing house journals for corporate and other institutional clients. Bryan Reid and David Ballantyne both joined the Auckland Star as cadet reporters on June 14, 1943. It was Ballantyne's 19th birthday and Reid was just 16. They remained close friends, although separated intermittently, Ballantyne in New Zealand and Britain and Reid in Australia. Among Reid's particularly vivid memories of Ballantyne are their years among the writers and artists in post-war Wellington, and particularly of the wild life at 301 Willis Street, where Ballantyne lived while he was working on the Southern Cross newspaper and writing his novels.
Read Kate de Goldi's story, Sydney Bridge Redux, NZ Listener Jan.30, 2010.