What a marvellous novel. I couldn't get my nose out of it ! I guess because I have spent most of my adult life working in the book world, first a bookseller, then publisher, then to judging book awards, reviewing books and blogging about them, I related so strongly to this terrific story and to many of the author's superbly drawn characters.
Everyone one who works in the world of books as well as all bibliophiles must read this book. It is a knockout.
Here is the book's back cover copy which I think sums it up well without giving too much away.
Wit, compassion and insight combine in this entertaining novel that explores the politics and human comedy behind writers' festivals and the publishing industry.
Writers' festivals can be hotbeds of literary and romantic intrigue, and the Oceania is up there with the best of them. Rookie director Rae McKay, recently returned from New York, fears she has bitten off more than she can chew. Pressure comes not only from local and international writers but also from the prestigious Opus Book Award, which this year is being hosted by the festival. Add to that high-level diplomatic fallout surrounding a dissident Chinese writer, Rae's slowly disintegrating private life and ongoing dramas involving much loved characters of The Writing Class, and the result is a wise and witty novel that explores the contemporary phenomenon of the public face of the writer.
About the author:
The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature describes Johnson's writing as ‘marked by a dry irony, a sharp-edged humour that focuses unerringly on the frailties and foolishness of her characters . . . There is compassion, though, and sensitivity in the development of complex situations', and goes on to note that ‘a purposeful sense of . . . larger concerns balances Johnson's precision with the small details of situation, character and voice that give veracity and colour'.
Her writing has been described as ‘skilful, insightful, witty', displaying ‘a truly light touch' (New Zealand Herald). Belief, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Montana Book Awards, was called by Sara Wilson in The Historical Novel Review (UK) ‘a powerful novel, unsentimental and unflinching in its portrayal of the potentially destructive power of love and faith'. In North & South, Warwick Roger wrote that Music from a Distant Room saw Johnson in ‘top form'— a novel which is ‘immensely satisfying, utterly believable'.
Reviewing The Open World in The New Zealand Listener, John McCrystal praised the ‘deftness of touch' with which Johnson renders her characters: ‘it's often no more than a little detail, such as the habitual movement of a muscle in a face that brings a character to life'. After commending the lightness with which she wears her obviously extensive research, he noted the care she takes with language — ‘Best of all is her feel for the elegance of the Victorian turn of phrase.'
Novels include: Crimes of Neglect (1992; short-listed for Wattie's Book Awards 1993); The Heart's Wild Surf (1996, and Dymock's/Quote Unquote Readers' Poll's Best New Zealand Book 1996; published in the United States in 2003 as The Sailmaker's Daughter); The Whistler (1998; third prize in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 1999); Belief (2000; short-listed for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2001); The Shag Incident (2002;Deutz Medal for Fiction, Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2003); Music from a Distant Room (2004; long-listed 2009 Impac Prize, Dublin); John Tomb's Head (2006; long-listed 2006 Impac Prize, Dublin); Swimmers' Rope (2008; long-listed 2009 Impac Prize, Dublin); The Open World (2012); and The Writing Class (2013).
Short story collections include: The Glass Whittler (1989); All the Tenderness Left in the World (1993); and Drowned Sprat and Other Stories (2005).
Poetry collections include: The Bleeding Ballerina (1986) and Moody Bitch (2003).
Stage plays include: Accidental Phantasies; Folie a Deux; Strange Children; and Goodnight Nurse.