His­tory of NZ dec­o­rated with anec­dotes

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

Paula Mor­ris’ lat­est novel is cen­tred on her an­ces­tor, Ngati Wai chief Paratene Te Manu.

As Te Manu is hav­ing his por­trait painted by the bo­hemian pain­ter Got­tfried Lin­dauer, he rem­i­nisces over a fate­ful and event­ful voy­age to Eng­land that he and other chiefs made 20 years ear­lier.

What be­gins as a feted bring­ing to­gether of cul­tures soon dis­in­te­grates into an undig­ni­fied spec­ta­cle, as the re­al­i­ties of colo­nial­ism sully the un­re­al­is­tic ide­al­ism of the mis­sion­ary zeal.

Lon­don, and the other newly in­dus­tri­alised English cities, are viewed through the be­wil­dered and in­creas­ingly rheumy eyes of the ran­gatira as dark, cold, strange places.

There are some gen­uine mo­ments, but in­creas­ingly there is the un­pleas­ant whiff of to­kenism, voyeurism and ex­ploita­tion.

My big­gest prob­lem with this book is prob­a­bly a lit­tle un­fair, in that it stems from the fact that I had just fin­ished read­ing Witi Ihi­maera’s The Parihaka Woman, which was a su­perb story.

Mor­ris’ tale lacks story, an en­gag­ing nar­ra­tive thread, and a com­pelling char­ac­ter. Te Manu is a slow burn of a pro­tag­o­nist. He is charm­ing but too un­der­stated to carry the story; he is for­ever the wit­ness to the dra­mas of oth­ers.

For all the melo­drama and op­er­atic largesse of Ihi­maera’s work, it is ul­ti­mately a love story adorned with his­tory. Mor­ris’ book is his­tory dec­o­rated with anec­dotes.

What is lack­ing in nar­ra­tive is counter- bal­anced some­what by meta-nar­ra­tive. The reader is in a po­si­tion of priv­i­lege – we know more than any of the pro­tag­o­nists, which gives us a damn­ing view of the early post-colo­nial pe­riod.

The novel is pre­dom­i­nantly set in Eng­land and thus presents a fresh, English per­spec­tive of New Zealand his­tory.

The South Waikato News has one copy of Ran­gatira to give away. Sim­ply tell us the name of the artist who painted Paratene Te Manu’s por­trait on the cover of the book, along with your name and contact de­tails. Send to P O Box 89, Toko­roa 3444 or swaikato.ed­i­tor@wrcn.co.nz.

Re­viewed by Matt Bowler

BE­HIND THOSE EYES: Paula Mor­ris’s Ran­gatira, which is based on the life of her an­ces­tor, Ngati Wai chief Paratene Te Manu, won the 2012 Fic­tion cat­e­gory in the pres­ti­gious New Zealand Post Book Awards.

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