Top 10 New Zealand books of the decade

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The Herald's literary review team have come up with their best ten fiction and best ten non-fiction New Zealand books from the last decade.

FICTION

1. Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones

Set on the island of Bougainville during Papua New Guinea's brutal civil war, Mister Pip tells the story of 11-year-old Matilda Laimo, whose elderly European school teacher Tom Watts mesmerises his class by reading them passages from Dickens' Great Expectations.

"An extraordinary novel, real yet touched with magic, intellectually and emotionally satisfying." - Gordon McLauchlan

Mister Pip, the best selling New Zealand fiction book of 2007, won the Montana Medal for fiction and poetry at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and won the Commonwealth Prize for writing.

Review

2. Blindsight - Maurice Gee

The winner of the Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, Blindsight is a story about complex family relationships - in this case the relationship between protagonist Alice Ferry and her estranged brother Gordon.

"Gee offers the suspense of watching strong characters try to come to terms with themselves. Alice and her brother are worth the effort it takes to get to know them."
- David Larsen, NZ Herald

Review

3. The Vintner's Luck - Elizabeth Knox

Set in a Burgundy vineyard, The Vintner's Luck explores the relationship between vintner Sobran Jodeau and an angel (Xas) who visits him on the same night every year. The Vintner's Luck won the inaugural Tasmania Pacific Region Prize and the 1999 fiction prize at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

"Like a fine wine, this novel reveals its quality and charm in layers, providing richer rewards and delights the further one moves through it. After the initial rapture of experiencing good traditional storytelling peppered with great prose, it is the hidden depths that make this a rich and satisfying experience, one to savour again and again."
- Michael Larsen, NZ Herald

4. Tu - Patricia Grace

Set in the mud-caked rubble of Cassino, Italy, and the bustle of early 1940s New Zealand, the narrative weaves between Tu's account from the battlefield, where he is stationed with his older brothers Pita and Rangi, and the family's life as part of the Wellington's Maori community.

Tu won the Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry at the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

"Grace's description of battles at Casino lost before they began is superb and sobering. Through Tu's distinctive voice she captures the carnage of warfare, its noise and stench, the feel of boots sinking into soft surfaces that turn out to be lumps of rotting flesh."
- Susan Jacobs, NZ Herald

Review

5. Tarzan Presley - Nigel Cox

What if Tarzan and Elvis were one and the same? This outrageous question forms the basis of the novel, with the story of the two famous individuals intertwined. Raised by gorillas in the Wairarapa bush, the protagonist's life takes a dramatic turn when he is "discovered" by a Memphis record producer and finds fame in America.

"To take such an unlikely, attention-getting idea and develop it into such an intelligent book - it's like seeing someone suddenly make a successful film of Lord of the Rings in Miramar. Go back in time a decade and tell people about it, and you'd be laughed right back into the present."
- David Larsen, NZ Herald

Review

6. My Name was Judas - CK Stead

A new take on the world's best known story imagines Judas Iscariot as an old man, looking back on his childhood friendship with Jesus and the events which led to his crucifixion.

In Stead's version, Jesus wasn't all he was cracked up to be and Judas was the only disciple who saw through him and his so-called "miracles".

"Through Judas's remembrances, Stead delivers a witty, sharp and perfectly formed meditation on belief, loss and the power of language - we see Judas as a poet, always aware of the power and danger in Jesus' words - that ranks among the best works of a distinguished author." - NZ Listener

Review

7. Stonedogs - Craig Marriner

In his first novel, Marriner exposes the underbelly of New Zealand society. Set in his home town Rotorua, the story follows Gator and his cohorts as they live a life centred on drugs, gangs and violence. Stonedogs won the Deutz medal for fiction at the 2002 Montana Book Awards.

"For many, Stonedogs will seem overwritten, the tumble of polysyllables and deliberately elevated language ("Mick has relinquished driving duties in search of liquid solace") sitting uncomfortably alongside dialogue which Marriner has heard described as "gratuitous". Faint-hearted readers might wish it came with a censor's warning."
- Graham Reid

Review

8. The Book of the Film of the Story of my Life - William Brandt

In Brandt's first novel, we follow Frederick Case, a struggling film producer trying to reclaim his life after his wife Sophie, a gorgeous film star, leaves him for her hunky American co-star.

"Brandt's prose would be funny regardless of context, but it's his ability to create well-observed, complex and believable characters - characters you care about, even when you want to wring their necks - that makes him stand out. This is a dazzling piece of writing."
- David Larsen NZ HERALD

Review

9. Novel about my Wife - Emily Perkins

Winner of the 2009 Montana Book Award for Fiction, Novel about my Wife is a posthumous account of bereft Tom Stone, who cannot stop thinking about his wife, Ann. The cause of Ann's death remains a mystery until the end as Tom goes over the events leading up to the tragedy.

"To my mind, the lurid where-do-you-go-to-my-lovely denouement betrays our (and the author's) investment in these expertly drawn characters and their lives. Still, the writing is arresting and the pace relentless. While Ann remains a convenient enigma, this vivid and assured -portrait of restless London and its precarious, precious artistic class reveals an author at the top of her craft." - NZ Listener

Review

10. The 10PM Question - Kate DeGoldi

The winner of the Reader's Choice award at the 2009 Montana Book Awards, NZ Post's Book of the Year and the prize for Young Adult Fiction, The 10PM Question appeals to young and old alike. It was the first book in Montana's history to be selected for both the adult's and the children's national awards.

In DeGoldi's novel, we meet Frankie Parsons, a 12-year-old with anxieties well beyond his years. It is his mother on the receiving end of his persistent questions and who is the cause of his worries. His new friend Sydney has questions of her own that force Frankie and his eccentric family to face up to things that have been ignored for too long.

Review


NON-FICTION

1. Rita Angus: An Artist's Life - Jill Trevelyan

Despite being one of New Zealand's best loved painters, little was known about Rita Angus and the story of her life - until now. Trevelyan's biography traces Angus's entire life giving an insight into Rita Angus, the person, and the artist.

Review

2. Wrestling with an Angel: A life of Janet Frame - Michael King

Wrestling with an angel looks into the anguished life of one of New Zealand's most accomplished writers, Janet Frame. With her full support, the biography details Frame's entire life to date including some shocking experiences with the New Zealand mental health system.

Wrestling with an Angel won the Montana medal for non-fiction and the Reader's Choice award at the Montana Book Awards in 2001.

3. The Penguin History of New Zealand - Michael King

The late Michael King's History of New Zealand covers the country from its geological formation to the present, providing a perspective on the themes that have defined us. With emphasis on the Maori-Pakeha interaction, King organises the book around the adaptation of cultures in New Zealand to each other and to the ecological, social, cultural, political and economic environments that they created.

The Penguin History of New Zealand, which has sold over 50,000 copies, won the Reader's Choice award and the Montal medal for non-fiction at the Montana Book Awards in 2001.

Review

4. A City Possessed: The Christchurch Civic Creche Case - Lynley Hood

A step-by-step account of what happened in the Christchurch Civic Creche case, in which Peter Ellis was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

"The book is not just about the Ellis case, it is also about the treatment of children and families and how social agendas and beliefs can escalate to have such a powerful negative effect."
- Sarah Farquhar, NZ Herald

Review

5. The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception - Nicky Hager

The Hollow Men is Hager's expose of the inner workings of the National Party, using a collection of internal reports, emails and interviews to document Don Brash's rise to power and a campaign to become government.

Review

6. Margaret Mahy: A Writer's Life - Tesse Duder

A "literary portrait" of New Zealand's most beloved author, Margaret Mahy, who didn't want a biography written while she was alive. Largely a record of Mahy's writing, speeches and anecdotes from her childhood, the book shows the "brilliance of Mahy's mind".

Review

7. The Trial of the Cannibal Dog - Anne Salmond

The Trial of the Cannibal Dog retells Captain Cook's adventures on the South Seas with details of the encounters, friendships and relationships between the explorers and the island people they "discovered".

The book was the winner of the Montana medal for non-fiction at the Montana Book Awards in 2004.

8. Wetland's of New Zealand: A Bittersweet story - Janet Hunt

An insight into the vital role wetlands and their inhabitants play in the functioning of our ecosystems and the damage that has been caused by their destruction.

Wetlands of New Zealand: A Bittersweet story won the 2008 Montana medal for Non-fiction.

Review

9. Chronicle of the Unsung - Martin Edmond

The 2005 winner of the Montana Book Awards biography section, Chronicle of the Unsung is an exploration via various byways of an eventful life (drugs and homelessness figure), the nature of creativity and his connection with other "unsung" aesthetic imaginations. Edmond, poet, writer and former Red Mole man calls it a "travelogue of the mind".

Review

10. Pohutukawa and Rata: New Zealand's Iron-hearted Trees - Philip Simpson

Simpson's book celebrates two of New Zealand's most unique and beloved trees. New Zealand's Iron-hearted Trees is a passionate call for the preservation of our national icons, exploring their evolution, development, and significance to Maori and New Zealand.

Review

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