Monday, June 16, 2008


US-based NZ novelist, and regular Listener contributor Paula Morris has her say on the subject under the heading CAUGHT SHORT in the NZ Listener issue 21 June out today.
Caught short
by Paula Morris
This year’s Montana New Zealand Book Awards judges have mystified readers with a fiction shortlist that includes just four finalists and rejects some of last year’s best books.
The fiction shortlist of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, announced on June 10, is all surprises this year: two short-story collections! No men! Nothing from Victoria University Press! All the writers born in the 1960s! One debut novelist! One Maori; one Southlander! Someone from Auckland!
But the most remarkable feature of this year’s shortlist is the absence of a fifth book. Were the judges – broadcaster Lynn Freeman, publisher David Elworthy and writer Tim Corballis – that unimpressed by all other works of fiction published here last year?

Couldn’t they bear to make room for some of the big-hitters of New Zealand fiction – Wilkins, Knox, (pic left), Peter Wells – all of whom published strong contenders? Couldn’t they bring themselves to shortlist one of last year’s best-received books like Sarah Laing’s debut collection, Coming Up Roses, or Susan Pearce’s first novel, Acts of Love, or the second novel by two-time Prize in Modern Letters finalist Louise Wareham Leonard, Miss Me A Lot Of?

Many of these books have received far more acclaim than some runners-up – or even winners – in previous years. Montana judges often make controversial inclusions and omissions in the fiction category, but they don’t usually manage such a provocative snub. Freeman, in an extraordinary comment, said there had been a lot of discussion about selecting only four titles, describing them as “outstanding” books. “While there were other great books [nominated],” she said, “we did not want to dilute the Montana sticker by promoting a fifth.” I’d argue that, among the names listed above, and the other “great” books the judges have read, they could have found a more-than-worthy title to complete this shortlist, without any award-diminishing consequence.

The Montanas present a once-a-year opportunity to promote five works of local fiction in shops and libraries – and the media – for six weeks leading up to the awards ceremony. Telling the reading public that only four books of the 35 submitted warrant this promotion is a strange message from awards organiser Booksellers New Zealand, a vocal supporter of New Zealand Book Month and the promotional anthology The Six Pack. The decision to turn up their noses at so many good books is more a reflection of a meanness of spirit – or narrowness of taste – on the part of this year’s judges than an indictment of the quality of fiction published here last year.

The above is only an excerpt from Morris' strong and thoughtful piece. She then goes on to provide her assessment of each of the four titles shortlisted by the judges. Bravo Paula.
Buy the Listener to read her full piece or go to NZ Listener online.
Also in the Listener this week are reviews of the latest James Bond novel, Devil May Care, Spark by Emma Neal, Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins, and others.

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