This week’s biggest-selling New Zealand books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by Steve Braunias

FICTION

1 Harbouring by Jenny Pattrick (Penguin Random House, $36)

New Zealand, 1839.

2 The Leonard Girls by Deborah Challinor (HarperCollins, $36.99)

New Zealand, 1969.

3 Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Victoria University Press, $35)

Okay, so here we are on the edge of the biggest literary event of the year: the $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, to be announced on Wednesday night at the Ockham New Zealand national book awards. Greta and Valdin is shortlisted. It’s the debut novel by the winner of the much-coveted Adam Award, which goes to the year’s outstanding student at the IIML – previous winners include Eleanor Catton, Paula Morris, Tayi Tibble, and a literary sensation waiting to happen, Kotuku Nuttall.

Greta and Valdin is that rarest of rara avises in New Zealand fiction – a comic novel, actually funny. Charlotte Grimshaw reviewed it at ReadingRoom, thus: “There’s a pervasive cuteness or playful charm, depending on your take, but there’s also variety, richness, a gratifyingly complicated set of relationships, a large and interesting cast of characters. The connections are tangled and numerous enough that we need the helpful cast list at the beginning….There are cruxes and crises and climaxes, there is comedy and laughter and tears and it all culminates, in the great, joyous tradition of dramatic comedies, with a coming together of friends and lovers, a family celebration and maybe, possibly, even a wedding.”

The three other novels shortlisted for New Zealand’s richest literary prize are Good Winter by Gigi Fenster, Entanglement by Bryan Walpert, and –

4 Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers, $35)

This is the book I hope wins the Acorn Prize. It’s a retelling of the myth of the bird-woman of Mokoia Island who died in agony, in the hot pools at Whakarewarewa, in pursuit of the warrior Hatuputu. It first appeared as a work in progress in the best-selling anthology Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold by Māori Writers – which attracted the attention and admiration of Neil Gaiman, who tweeted his enthusiasm to his 2.6 million followers.

Jackie Lee Morrison reviewed Kurangaituku at ReadingRoom, thus: “A great story leaves you with questions long after the last page, and after I had devoured Kurangaituku in three feverish sittings, I sat for a long time, twisting and turning the book in my hands—light to dark, and back again—my thoughts filled with the unfortunate bird-woman’s demise.”

The four shortlisted novels are included in the greatest book giveaway of all times on Monday, when each of the 16 books shortlisted for the Ockham book awards are up for grabs as a prize offered exclusively by good old ReadingRoom. Four collections of poetry, four books of non-fiction and four books illustrated non-fiction, along with the four novels, will go to whoever wins the greatest book giveaway of all times since this time last year, when Marina  Lathouraki won the prize. She is pictured clutching her awesome haul at her Petone home, below.

5 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)

6 Notorious by Olivia Hayfield (Hachette, $34.99)

7 The Fish by Lloyd Jones (Penguin Random House, $36)

Alongside the short story collection Beats of the Pa’u by Maria Samuela, and the novel Slow Down, You’re Here by Brannavan Gnanalingam, The Fish is the strongest contender to be published this year for next year’s Acorn Prize. As ever with Jones’s novels, it’s won more consistently good reviews in Australia than New Zealand. From a review by Arjun Rajkhowa in Arts Hub Australia: “The Fish is a novel about a family coping with loss and hardship in isolation. It describes the gradual disintegration of a family as members disperse and unexpectedly disappear, and family ties dissipate in the face of estrangement and misfortune. The novel traverses a lot of ground – from the social isolation and opprobrium faced by a young single mother to the alienation and incremental familial integration of an orphan with special needs. The members of the protagonist’s family are dispersed by destiny, choice and social forces that are never explicitly identified and unpacked but remain palpable throughout the plot.”

8 In Amber’s Wake by Christine Leunens (David Bateman, $34.99)

9 Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (Victoria University Press, $35)

I was really disappointed Orr’s powerful saga was overlooked in the Ockham shortlist for best novel.

10 She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Victoria University Press, $30)

I was really disappointed McDougall’s exciting eco-thriller was overlooked in the Ockham shortlist for best novel.

NON-FICTION

1 The Boy from Gorge River by Chris Long (HarperCollins, $39.99)

Thoroughly entertaining memoir of growing up in New Zealand’s remotest family, in South Westland. An excerpt appeared in ReadingRoom on Monday; the author detailed how they made flour: “We would dry sedge grass seeds in a metal camping pot behind the chimney of our wood fire. Once they were dry, Mum would grind them into flour. If we had wheat, she would also dry and grind that to make heavy wholegrain flour and I would watch intently as she mixed some of it together with the sedge-grass flour, yeast, salt and water in her stainless- steel bowl to make a thick brown dough. Mum would leave the dough to rise for an hour while she stoked the fire with dry wood and placed a large aluminium camp oven on top of the firebox to preheat. Then she’d bake the bread for two hours in a round enamel baking pan, turning it over just before it was done to finish cooking the top…We didn’t always have much to put on the bread when I was young, but we might have some butter or jam or canola oil and that was extra exciting.”

2 The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

3 Grand by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin Random House, $35)

The author is set to appear at next month’s Featherston books festival, talking about writing memoir alongside another brilliant exponent of the form, Megan Dunn.

4 Simple Wholefoods by Sophie Steevens (Allen & Unwin, $49.99)

5 Letters to You by Jazz Thornton (Penguin Random House, $30)

The author and her dance partner Brad Coleman were judged first place with 35/40 on the scoreboard in Monday night’s episode of Dancing with the Stars. They are pictured, below.

A New Zealand author (left).

6 Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan (Allen & Unwin, $45)

7 I am Autistic by Chanelle Moriah (Allen & Unwin, $29.99)

8 Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)

9 Natural Care by Wendyl Nissen (Allen & Unwin, $45)

The author wrote a typically very, very entertaining piece in ReadingRoom on Wednesday about one of the subjects in her latest book about natural living – the ancient wisdom of drinking less. She wrote, “When you hit your 50s, drinking a lot just becomes harder to bear. For women we are no longer seen as the sexy life and soul of the party, or a hard case, or a real character. Drunk older women are always described as tragic trouts who really should not be attempting to pole dance in the middle of a wedding. Our bodies begin to object to the inevitable hangover, we stagger a lot and sometimes fall over. Our language skills leave us, in the case of my husband; in my case, the ability to shut the fuck up escapes me. People are held hostage as I rant and rave, none of which I remember the next day…”

10 Cracking Open the Nest Egg by Martin Hawes (Upstart Press, $39.99)

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

Leave a comment