Stranded in ham­let of hor­ror

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - James Bradley

Wake By El­iz­a­beth Knox Constable & Robin­son, 443pp, $29.95

In Australia, at least, New Zealand au­thor El­iz­a­beth Knox is best known for The Vint­ner’s Luck, her strangely sen­sual 1998 novel about a 19th-cen­tury wine­maker and an an­gel. Be­fore that book Knox had pub­lished three nov­els, and a tril­ogy of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel­las, but in the years since she has pub­lished seven more. Like The Vint­ner’s Luck all have been dis­tin­guished not just by the re­mark­able force of Knox’s writ­ing, its thrilling, al­most erotic charge, but by the sense that she is map­ping a sort of dream­scape, a world — or worlds — in which fan­tasy and re­al­ity over­lap, and in which the imag­i­na­tive act of sto­ry­telling and magic are of­ten two sides of the same coin.

Wake, Knox’s 11th full-length novel, con­tin­ues this process. Set in Kahukura, an imag­i­nary small town some­where out­side Nel­son, New Zealand, it is at once an ex­er­cise in the sort of science fic­tion-in­flected hor­ror more com­monly as­so­ci­ated with Stephen King (with whose 2009 novel Un­der the Dome it shares some el­e­ments) and a psy­cho­log­i­cally acute ex­plo­ration of the ca­pac­ity of in­di­vid­u­als to en­dure ex­trem­ity and its un­sta­ble, un­pre­dictable af­ter­math.

As the novel opens po­lice of­fi­cer Theresa Grey is re­turn­ing to Kahukura from a rou­tine visit to a neigh­bour­ing town when she re­ceives a may­day from a he­li­copter. Rac­ing to help she al­most col­lides with a blood­ied, half-naked woman, her man­ner con­fused and con­fus­ing, as if her mind has been over­whelmed.

In the mo­ments af­ter­ward, Grey wit­nesses a se­ries of in­ex­pli­ca­ble hor­rors: a cou­ple who seem to be kiss­ing gnaw­ing each other’s lips off, a woman who shreds her face with her fin­ger­nails be­fore bit­ing off her own tongue, a pack of

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