NZ Book month -17 – ‘The Shag Incident’ by Stephanie Johnson

McGee’s memoir (see last post) mentions an infamous incident which occurred at Auckland University in 1984: playwright and lecturer Mervyn Thompson was abducted, assaulted and tied to a tree by a group of anonymous militant feminists. Allegations – never proved – of sexual harassment and rape were made.

Stephanie Johnson – who apparently was one of Thompson’s pupils at the time, and always maintained his innocence – bases this mystery novel around the same incident. In the fictionalisation, Howard Shag, a former All Black and bestselling author, suffers a similar assault. He, though, refuses to talk and becomes a recluse.

The story begins years later and unravels what happened, and why, and the tale is (of course) nowhere near as straightforward as it first seemed.

McGee’s own comment on Johnson’s book was “I thought it was a terrible injustice to ex-All Blacks everywhere that the central character, even in middle age, could be over-powered by 6 women.”

I am not so sure. I depends on the ex-All Black, and on the women. I first attended Auckland University in 1985, not long after the Thompson incident. One of the abductors, who held a prominent position on the Student Union, also used to serve as a bouncer on the door of Shadows on Wimmins Only Night (Mondays).

Six of her would have no trouble handling, say, a Terry Wright or an Allan Hewson.

The book itself is an enjoyable read, and Johnson rightly picked up a couple of awards for it.

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