Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, August 22, 2016
"Mean" by Michael Botur - a tough but rewarding read
Gritty social realism isn’t usually my cup
of tea. Mention it in a New Zealand context, and I am transported in a flash of
grey back to the 1950s and 1960s, turning up in Coal Flat with a case of
conscience and a teaching job, about to be marooned in monochrome.
The stories in Mean are gritty social realism, so I wasn’t sure how much the book
would appeal to me. But social realism has gone urban since the days of Coal Flat, and that’s where Mean is located: the underbelly of New
Zealand’s towns and cities. So it’s the realism of DJs and remixes, drugs and
needles, shit and piss and cum.
The danger of any work of fiction so
focused on one milieu is that it becomes repetitive – even Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a
Booker Prize winner and a great novel, might go on one or two drug deals and
assassinations too long. But Michael Botur brings enough variety to the stories
that, for the most part, they held my interest.
My favourite story in Mean is “Body Without A Head”. Jezz depends on music so much she
convinces herself she’s a musician, in a scene that shows a lyricism underlying
the harsh surface of the story:
She sits on
ProTools for entire seasons made only of night, tinkering, making mistakes,
getting pissed off, going out clubbing at the deep end of the night, forgetting
everything except the chests in front of her. Finally her wake-up coincides
with a sunrise…. She loves having sticky Red Bull on her throat, loves finding
lemon seeds and straws in her pockets and losing credit cards and finding all
the cigarettes in her handbag crushed and wondering where all the Durex went.
It all ends in tears, of course, but at
least for a few moments Jezz gets out from under her brother’s thumb and sees
her dreams realised. Those moments of hope may have been illusory, but I
welcomed them all the same.
Michael Botur knows the mean streets of the
big city well, and he writes about them with wit, compassion and insight. That
makes Mean a tough but rewarding