te tipuna ex machina

tombI have recently read two New Zealand novels which used a device similar to that of deus ex machina. While neither of these tipuna (ancestors) actually solve any problems they do hang around and make comments.

And I lie: I couldn’t finish John Tomb’s Head. I read The Open World some time ago and liked it so much I was encouraged to read more of this writer. Music from a Distant Room is still on my Goodreads “want to read” list.

What was the problem? Many. Names of characters. Caricatures of characters who seem familiar. Keith McNair the historian. A disembodied voice talking about his body (actually his head). Silly characters that had no substance. A reference to a history and tribal names that made some sense but not enough. Overall however it was the attempt at humour which, to be fair, is a difficult thing to sustain and a thing that most New Zealanders should not attempt. She also attempts to explore the Pākehā Māori interactions of the past and the present. Not successfully.

(I recently read Three Men in Boat. What joyous subtlety.)

rekohuTina Makereti I thought has more success with her ancestor whose name we learn but I cannot find when I go back to check. He (er he is a he isn’t he?) is one of the Ngā Raumahara, the dead remembered in Rēkohu – the Chatham islands. Perhaps because there is little attempt at humour and more attempt at showing the pain of the past and its affect on the present that this is more successful. The ancestor watches, feels and sees the pain and is present when called into the house by his relation Lulu who goes to the Chathams to find her relations and to understand her mother who distanced herself from her Moriori side. It’s a clever book that shows the difficulties in families who whakapapa to Ngāti Mutunga and Moriori and how finding out about the past can both heal and hurt.

It does take a while to get going on the story but I suspect I am not the target audience whose may be more used to the blurred lines between the seen and the unseen. I did enjoy the book though and found parts of it deeply sad and the voice of the tipuna more congruent with the story as it moved along.


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