Flying to Pauanui

I made a late entry in the comment thread of the year over at Dim Post, a challenge to “submit a paragraph in which Shelley writes a passage from a classic New Zealand novel in her own inimitable style,” referring to the Herald’s Remuera housewife on Valium / crack columnist Shelly Bridgeman. My paragraph is from Chad Taylor‘s Shirker.

‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked, remembering.
It came out weakly: ‘Ellerslie Penrose’.
‘Penrose,’ he said. ‘We haven’t driven that far south since that ugly clay pigeon shooting spat at Hotel Du Vin. Much prefer taking a Corporate Cab to the airport and flying over it.’

Auckland, Aotearoa Gill

An evening with AA Gill, Auckland Readers & Writers Festival 13 May 2011

AA Gill, the man himself, dismantler of restaurants and sharpest dictaphone in the west strolled slowly on stage suited and booted, ready to talk.

And talk he did, about food, criticism, his mother, his father, television,travel and his previous life as a drug dealer and alcoholic. There were quotable lines galore (I arrived in Auckland. It was lashing down. I thought “I’ve arrived in Hull”).  He does a pretty bang on Prince Charles impression. The question and answer session gave him a couple of set piece opportunities (The Isle of Man and being chucked out of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant), as well as a couple of  bizarre, were-they-planted ramblers.

Fishing’s Al Brown was asking the questions, and looked a bit out at sea. Whenever Gill paused mid-tale, and looked to his right, where a Kim Hill or Russell Brown may have given the right rejoinder to really get the  conversation cooking, he saw Brown looking at his notes. Gill couldn’t resist clawing him around a bit (“Oh, you’re a CHEF?), but let him off, mostly. Apparently Brown took him fishing on the Gulf that morning, where they both got a Kahawai (They ate it as sashimi, he told me when I had my book signed). Must have been been good.

I didn’t know what to expect from a man so clinically, hilariously scathing in print, but after an hour and a bit in his company, I thought I’d quite  like to share a meal with him. A bit of a show-off, yes, but utterly charming, with a razor sharp eye for where best to take the piss from. Beneath the metaphor athletics and withering words, he just wants things to be enjoyable. Enjoyable food, enjoyable places to travel, enjoyable things to entertain us on the box. Not much to ask. Uncynical enthusiasm, and an artfully written take-down if you’re not up to scratch. I quite liked that.

Souvenir cc @aklwritersfest

Further reading:

AA Gill in Vanity Fair

The Herald’s Michele Hewitson experiences The Charm up close, and is charmed interview

TV writing from The Times – seems to have escaped the paywall

Interview with The Listener’s Diana Wichtel

Update: Here’s a video of the session in full, courtesy Auckland readers and writers festival

Two things too small for posts of their own

One: I’ve signed up at My first review is of Donald Sturrock’s Road Dahl bio Storyteller. I recommend it, and wrote a review over there.

Most interesting to me was Dahl’s view of himself as an outsider, never conforming to any individual’s or the literary establishment’s expectations, and the fact that he  came to writing later in life. His time as a pilot in the war and as a diplomat in Washington were facinating, and I got the feeling Sturrock could have added more gossip and scandal in this section – I’m intrigued!

Two: I totally made this for dinner last night, taking this fine recipe and adding chickpeas and sausages.
dinner tonight cc @josiecampbell

Two short book reviews

Holly wood Animal: A memior by Joe Eszterhaus

Basic Instinct writer Eszterhaus stars in his own life history, a life divided between his two children and wife he was steadily growing apart from, and Hollywood, where he ruled the roost by producing hot script after hot script. I preferred reading about his time in the movie business, which seemed to consist of hanging out with Don Simpson, living next door to Bob Dylan in Malibu and taking meetings with studio execs dressed in shorts and flip flops (all the better to tell those lousy suits to go fuck themselves), and not the lengthy, messy breakup with his wife. He started a second family with his current wife, survived a cancer scare, moved back to his hometown Cleavland and  and, according to Wikipedia, is now a born again catholic. Recommended.

The Discomfort Zone – Jonathan Franzen

This series of autobiographical essays reads like The Corrections’ DVD extras. Franzen’s warm prose examines Charlie Brown, selling his deceased parents’ house, church youth groups and bird watching. Recommended.

Came A Hot Friday – short book review

This book has everything – heavy drinking, sex, violence, crime and gambling, all packed into one weekend in a couple of small towns in Taranaki. The characters and writing are colorful, to say the least, and there’s some surprisingly evocative passages about the atmospheric countryside, and portraits of minor characters’ lives. Ronald Hugh Morrieson, a musician, carouser and writer, lived his whole life in Hawera and wrote thinly veiled versions of his fellow Hawerans into his books, making him an unpopular member of the community, even to this day. Hawera took its revenge soon after his death by bulldozing the Morrieson family home and putting up a KFC. Came A Hot Friday is recommended, and I will be tracking down RHM’s other books, quite quickly.

Two more very short book reviews

Chad Taylor – Heaven

Again, Chad Taylor puts you right into a fictional Auckland that makes it seem much more dangerous and sexy than the one I live in. Apparently Taylor was doing a long walk along K Road and New North Road every evening when he was writing this, and it feels spot on, right down to the 90s (when the book was written and set) details. The plot meanders along as we get to know the characters, and just wallow in Taylor’s moody Auckland again. Recommended.

Christopher Hitchens – Hitch-22

As I wrote to a friend, reading this made me feel I should do less reading novels about self absorbed people and sport books. Hitchens has a big brain, and has been all around the world trying to help the less fortunate. He’d also be great to go drinking with, and one of my favorite bits is the pithy ‘drinking advice’ section. Honestly, I was looking forward to more stories about going drinking with Kingsley and Martin Amis and Clive James, but that’s just me, I’m awfully interested in drinking stories. Recommended.

Three very short book reviews

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Apparently a homage to Howards End, On Beauty is the story of a washed out English professor, his family, his deadly rival and how it all breaks down deliciously. Its sexier than Smith’s other books, but has the usual lyrical writing you want to nick. Recommended.

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

The story of each member of the Lambert family, and the story of their family. Hilarious, touching and close to the bone. Recommended.

The Hours – Micheal Cunningham

A short, dense book with three women going about a single day. A kind of companion novel to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the stories combine and mirror one another – probably requires a re-read. Recommended.

Book review – A Fraction Of The Whole – Steve Toltz

If this review was AFOTW, it would be 1500 words long and mention books I’d read as a lad, books my uncle read, and books I might read in the future. At 700 pages, you could say this novel is a ramble, and sustaining the tone and pace over that length is challenging, to say the least, says he who’s never attempted writing a novel. AFOTW has some charming and not so charming characters, and a whole lot of earthy Australian humor and turn of phase, which I enjoyed immensely. Toltz wields a metaphor like a man that really knows his way to the loo in the dark (see what I did there?). Unfortunately, I thought large chunks of the text did nothing to drive the plot along, and having just been burnt by A Man In Full, I like a plot that’s driven along. I greatly admire the ambition and humanity in AFOTW, but would have appreciated a thorough edit.

Wikipedia link

Read: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

It may have been a mistake to read this right after White Teeth. The Autograph Man is on a completely different scale to its  predecessor, the narrative taking only a couple of weeks and centering around one main character, Alex Li-Tandem, an autograph collector who loses his father in the opening chapter.

Alex lacks charm and his obsession with film star Kitty Alexander is second only to his obsession with himself. Set in London (Mountjoy), the action takes us to New York and back again in search of… something. I never really engaged with Alex, and therefore never really engaged with the novel. There are enjoyable moments, like the set piece where Alex attempts to drown his sorrows by drinking his way through the alphabet:

Beer turned up again in brand name form for F, the spiteful, familiar Gin followed by Hot Toddy, made by Tommy who (with unguessed at athleticism) vaulted over the bar to make it.

The unsatisfying jumbled narrative attempts to bring together the autograph world and Jewish mysticism, and its’ main characters lack of charm, with a large dollop of pointless supporting cast members never pulled me completely. Hard to recommend.