Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Stories of Bill Manhire – a wee review and a wee interview – ‘I think that by and large I’ve written against rules’

Paula Green

Bill Manhire occupies a significant position in our literary landscape — as both a poet and as founder of the International Institute of Modern Letters. As poet he is lauded on an international stage and at home was recognised  as our inaugural Te Mata Poet Laureate. As teacher and mentor at Victoria University, his outstanding contribution to our writing communities was honoured by the naming of the Bill Manhire House at IIML (April 2016). I have read Bill when he is not writing poems and have admired his clarity and elasticity of thought, but I had not read the early fiction in his recently released The Stories of Bill Manhire (VUP). Things escape us for all kinds of reason. In the 1990s, I focused on all things Italian as I wrote my doctoral thesis and missed too many local things. What a loss!

Amongst so many books I have loved, three books have really got under my reading skin in the last month: Cilla McQueen’s memoir, In Slanted Light, Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu, and Bill’s short stories.

Each of these books took me by surprise. Like little thunderbolts where you can feel your heart rate pick up as you read. Bill’s book didn’t cleave me apart like Kafka’s axe to the head or heart (he says the frozen sea within) but felt like the utterly satisfying thirst-quenching intake of sparkling water.  Writing that is effervescent, clear, restorative. I guess that is doing something miraculous to your parched state (a different kind of frozen sea). This is what words can do.
To celebrate this book – a short review from me and an interview with Bill.

A wee review:
The stories in this collection are gathered from The New Land: A Picture Book, South Pacific and Songs of My Life. There are previously unpublished stories, The Brain of Katherine Mansfield where you choose your own adventure, and the memoir, Under the Influence.
The writing is inventive, refreshing, surprising, on its feet skipping kicking doing little jumps.
How can I underline how good it is? As I read my way into days of reading pleasure, I squirmed cringed gasped laughed out loud sighed did wry grins wriggled on the spot leapt over the gaps laughed out loud again and felt little stabs that moved.
The stories highlight place and character, become nostalgic with detail that glints of when we were young (well for me anyway). You might move from the Queen’s visit and telling jokes to a dog named Fairburn, to a sci-fi keepsake on the tongue, to questions and answers on writing, to a dead-end job. Yes, the subjects are captivating but it is not so much what the stories pick as a starting point but how they travel. Take any story and it is a rejuvenating read. ‘Nonchalance’ for example, is like a series of postcards, travel or writing tips; or arrival tips with love and broken heart, soldiers, soldiers’ wives and the locals. You enter a realm of first things and floating elements. The readerly effects are kaleidoscopic.
To give you a taste of the book (I hope this doesn’t ruin things for you), here are some of the first and last lines. So important in a short story – these just nail it.

For the rest of the review and interview see here

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