[photograph: Tim Page]
Well, it's April Fool's day - and, sure enough, a review of my book of short stories Kingdom of Alt (Titus Books, 2010) has appeared on Landfall's new online site here ...
The review is by Lisa Samuels, who teaches poetry and creative writing at Auckland University, and I think it would have to be described as extremely charitable by any standards.
In fact, as Lisa conducted her forensic enquiry into the inner workings of the various stories in the collection, I did begin to expect some kind of flying boot to appear out of nowhere and crush my impertinence forever. Not so, though. She ends as judiciously as she began - and to anyone who knows Lisa's fierce regard for accuracy and truth in all she says and does, this is quite a tribute.
I also have to register a strong vote in favour of the new Landfall Review Online here, too. it's been very frustrating, for a long time now, to see excellent books appearing here in New Zealand which can't get a decent review for love or money. Quote Unquote, Mark Pirie's mid-period JAAM, the pander - all those journals which aspired to cover the more interesting stuff appearing here have either bitten the dust or changed their formats. Yes, reviews are complicated to organise and expensive to commission. Congratulations to David Eggleton, Landfall's new helmsman, then, for getting this new initiative up and running. Even if my book had been slated (which it wasn't), it'd still great to see some solid discursive critical writing out there, easily accessible on the internet.
That's not to say that I agree with everything Lisa says, mind you ... but how else are you going to find out how your writing means to other people than through a comprehensive discussion of this sort by a careful and honest critic? What you think is perfectly clear may not turn out to be so ...
The other substantive review of Kingdom of Alt which has appeared in the past couple of months was in brief 41 (2010): 103-5, edited by Richard von Sturmer. The reviewer, one Elmar Ludwig, characterised himself in the "notes on Contributors" at the end of the magazine as having:
... sold his second-hand bookshop in Hamburg in December 2007. He then decided to spend the next ten years in ten different countries. In 2008 he lived in Yokohama, Japan; in 2009 in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; and in 2010 in Auckland, New Zealand. Next year he will relocate to Israel. His choice of countries is based on a mathematical equation. [107-8]
As the immortal Rabbie Burns once observed: "Would the good Lord the gift would gie us / To see ourselves as others see us" (or words to that effect). One of the most interesting things about Elmar Ludwig's review - to me, at any rate - was the fact that virtually everyone seemed convinced that I'd somehow fabricated his very existence in order to review the book myself ...
Even my publisher, the redoubtable Brett Cross, seemed to have a few doubts on the score. It's true that my fiction is a bit on the tricksy side, and I wouldn't swear not to have invented the odd alter-ego from time to time, but to review my own book? No, honestly not.
Mr Ludwig does sound a bit unlikely, on the surface, but anyone who knows Richard von Sturmer knows that he'd be about as likely to endorse George W. Bush for a Nobel Peace Prize as to collaborate in a literary hoax of this sort ...
You can check out parts of the Ludwig review at my bibliography site here. Elmar Ludwig begins by expressing doubts about my knowledge of contemporary Korean fiction. In this he is quite correct, I should say.
Lisa Samuels begins similarly by wondering if I'm ignorant of J. G. Ballard. There I would have to say that she's less justified, however. The obituary I wrote for him on this very site should constitute evidence of my reverence for the Master's works (though it's true that I haven't actually reread The Atrocity Exhibition all that recently ...)
[J. G. Ballard: The Terminal Collection
(Selected Cover Art: 1978-1984)