What do you get when you mix magical, mystical fantasy with gritty, down-to-earth realism? Well, add a healthy dose of Hawaiian culture and you’ve got Sharks in the Time of Saviours - a story about family, human connection, and the battle between culture and capitalism.
It starts with teenage Leda, widowed (by her cousin, but let’s not touch on the whole ‘marrying your cousin’ thing) and lost in Buenos Aires. Driven by desperation, Leda is seduced by tango music - but, alas, a woman in Argentina can’t be a musician. So she dons her dead cous-band’s clothing, takes his name, and joins a troupe of musicians. An act of survival initially, but the underlying gender dysphoria in the narrative hints to something more.
Fiona Shaw’s Tell It to the Bees is a story of forbidden love in the 1950s - between Lydia, a desperately depressed factory worker and single mother, and Jean - the town’s doctor. The story unfurls slowly, starting with Lydia’s miserable marriage crumbling. Her husband, an alcoholic long infantilised by his sister who raised him, has all the classic markers of a man who has never had to face any kind of a consequence.
Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is as much a book as it is a work of art. A highly considered novel with twelve protagonists, each chapter opening out like the petals of a flower, each different and yet connected, coming from each other while folding into each other.
Or maybe it’s not a flower. Maybe it’s a tapestry, with each woman’s story weaving in, blending in with each other to create a picture of the British Black Experience.
An intimate story full of longing, ache, and regret, about two men who fall in love but can’t be together. The love story goes on to change the rest of their lives and colour their worlds indefinitely, but they took such different paths - and it breaks your heart to know that it could have ended differently if one of them had just picked up the fucking phone.
A slow, contemplative read, you spend much of the book trudging through the gloom - and those who prefer a more light-hearted, faster-paced read may find themselves battling to get through the first few chapters. We must urge you to continue for what waits on the other side is nothing short of beautiful and transformative, and is a story that needs to be heard.
Written in the 70s but in many ways lightyears ahead of its time, Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle is a lesbian coming of age story with a main character you have no choice but to fall in love with - and not just because we all love a pushy lesbian.
An easily loveable read populated by vibrant and endearing characters, this is a murder mystery - but not as you know them. Instead of the typical murder mystery tropes, it’s set in small town Central Otago. Your characters are a quirky, flamboyant gay couple and their charge: a young girl who is both alarmingly precocious and adorably naive.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City doesn’t open the door for you and politely invite you in. The door swings open. You hear ‘thereyou are, you’re late’ before being yanked down several flights of stairs and thrust into a room full of strangers. Strangers who are all trying to introduce themselves at once.
I felt so torn reading this book. On the one hand, it is beautifully written. It’s one of the best pieces of prose I’ve read in a long time. It is, rightfully, a classic. Isherwood writes about grief and ageing, what it means to keep living even after loss. It takes place over a single day, the main character’s last day alive, and uses the same stream of consciousness style of writing as some of Isherwood’s younger contemporaries, but feels much more accessible and deliberate than a lot of the Beats.
I struggled to write this review. Like, a lot. For weeks after I finished the book I would sit down at my laptop and say out loud, to no one, “I don’t want to write this.” Not because it’s not a good book. It is! Sweet, funny, and sad. Insightful and raunchy. It’s got the beautifully dry sense of humour and candid, call-a-spade-a-spade, informalness that I love about kiwi culture and a lot of New Zealand writing.
How can I describe this book? It will break your heart. More than your heart, it will break you wide open. This book is a scalpel, the tip of an arrow, a bullet wrapped in silk. You’ll find yourself turning to your partner in bed with tears in your eyes, asking if you can please just read them something. You’ll find yourself wishing you owned more copies so you can lend it to everyone you know.