NZ Book Month – 03 = The Lovelock Version by Maurice Shadbolt

OK – I’m wayyyy behind with this NZ Book MOnth Challenge, kicked off by Ele @ Home Paddock – whose latest effort is here – and joined by Deborah at In a Strange Land – latest book here.

We’re day six and this is my third… hope to have caught up by Sunday.

I think this was the first NZ novel I read out of school – I picked it up when I was working in Whakatane. Got a hard cover edition on special at the local book shop for $5.

And it is very good. It is a weird mix of realism and fantasy – but don’t let that put you off. The fantasy bits are carefully rendered and not done in a self indulgent way.

The story kicks off with the Lovelock family in the Otago goldfields. Family patriarch Herman ducks out for a smoke of his pipe one evening and an angel appears before him.

The angel appears a bit incompetent, and seems to need to keep checking his notes. The exchange between this angel and a very sceptical Herman is, to my mind, one of the great (and all too rare) comic scenes in New Zealand literature:

“An angel appears. Who, truth be told, the unusual lighting effect excluded, is really no more than a crabby old clerk with wings.

“Behold, the angel announces, you have been chosen…. All is vanity, the angel says with a wince of distaste. All is waste and vanity. All.

There is a brief pause, with notes furtively consulted, allowing Herman an intervention. You sure, he asks, you got the right man?”

And, later, after Herman extols the reasons for gold digging:

“Keep to the point, the angel insists.

It is the blasted point, Herman argues.

Consider gold, proposes the angel.

Herman considers it, as suggested, with some satisfaction.
So what is it? The angel asks, after further perusal of notes.

You tell me, Herman sighs. It looks to me like you got all the answers there.”

The tale follows the family as Herman turns messianic and leads them to found a village at the mouth of what appears to be the Mokau River on the North Island’s west coast.
The story follows them up until the late 1970s – when the book was written. On the way we have stop-offs with the industrial unrest of the early 1910s; World War One and Gallipoli; and a “distant relative” who wins a medal at the 1935 Olympics gets a passing mention.
It is a serious novel which does not fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously – a trap far too many local novels have fallen into.

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