What links a time-traveller, a bass player and an astronomer? In Anthony Lapwood's dream-like, unsettling collection of stories, it's a "crummy Wellington building". Elsewhere, find six supportive books to better understand yourself and others, and meet Isobel Te Aho-White, who discusses illustration, celebrating Matariki, and working with Witi Ihimaera.
BOOKS IN REVIEW
Home Theatre, by Anthony Lapwood (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $30). Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage.
Home Theatre, the debut collection by Anthony Lapwood (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Whakaue), features 13 stories linked by the Repertory Apartments, a crummy Wellington building that used to be a theatre. Its characters include Ashton, an astronomer at the Carter Observatory; Emma, a drunk who gets stuck in a broken lift; and Jay Storm, a bass player who hallucinates the bright blue horse depicted on the cover. Lapwood's work weaves together the fantastical and the real, embracing speculative fiction, magic and dreams.
In the opening story, The Source of Lightning, a stranded time-traveller known as a chrononaut needs — as in the movie Back to the Future — a boost of lightning to fix a problem with his time-travel gear. Unlike the romping adventure film, this story is claustrophobic and violent. The climactic scene uses a Wellington landmark, the bright orange wind wand on the waterfront, and many of the stories take place in a version of the capital that is both recognisable and suspicious.
A dark, dreamlike sense pervades Home Theatre, suggesting that all is not as it should be. In The Difficult Art of Bargaining, fussy pensioner Liv rediscovers an old headscarf in her wardrobe: "It was like retrieving a forgotten memory, as in those moments before sleep when the mind coughs up its more peculiar suggestions." The longest story, Provided with Eyes, Thou Departest, opens with "His wife washed up over and over again on the lakeshore," which turns out to be widower Bryce's recurring nightmare. In fact, Lapwood creates an aura of alienation so successfully that some readers may struggle to find emotional connection with the stories.
One notable exception is The Ether of 1939. Set when the theatre-turned-apartment building was a radio factory, the story's point-of-view character is Jack, who can hear a voice on a radio speaking from the future. (It's the chrononaut again, from The Source of Lightning).
Jack is gay, and rendered lonely by homophobia. What he hears through the radio is the 21st century domestic life of a man in a relationship with another man. The voice from the future, rendered as a transcript, is a revelation: "The idea that Jack might ever make a home with someone was transformed from something preposterous and obscene into something achievable, perhaps even ordinary." In a brief but affecting moment of queer community, the chrononaut says that if Jack writes him letters and buries them, he will dig them up in the future and read every word. "It was a chance for guiltless confession. A chance for true expression, a chance to be his real self," Jack realises. "He will hear me and see me, and he will know me."
The stories of Home Theatre range from just a few pages to quasi novellas, and many explore isolation and disconnection. The inhabitants of the Repertory Apartments may long to "dream larger dreams" as Daniel says in Jobs for Dreamers, but most face a colder reality in this unsettling new collection of stories.
SIX SUPPORTIVE READS
There is no substitute for talking to a professional but, if you are trying to better understand yourself and others, these books are useful.
The Book of Knowing, by Gwendoline Smith (Allen and Unwin, $25)
Kiwi psychologist Gwendoline Smith knows her stuff; she has been in practice for more than 30 years, has written many books and articles, and for a long time was a regular media commentator. This book is written for teens and takes a practical approach to understanding how your brain works, why you feel the way you do and what you can do about it. It aims to give young people the skills and confidence to manage their roiling emotions. Smith also wrote the companion books The Book of Overthinking and The Book of Angst.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk (Penguin, $32)
Victims of trauma tend to relive their worst moments over and over again, thereby subjecting themselves to further trauma. That ongoing sense of danger encourages the body to produce stress hormones and negatively impacts health, says American psychiatrist Dr Bessel van der Kolk, who argues that trauma is one of the most urgent health issues in the world. This very popular book, first released in 2015, shows how practices like yoga, meditation, exercise and drama can help to heal.
The Comfort Book, by Matt Haig (Canongate, $40)
Described as a hug in book form, The Comfort Book is a grab-bag of memoir, self-help advice and philosophical musings from the author of Reasons to Stay Alive. Written during the English writer's first Covid-19 lockdown, when he suffered a bad bout of anxiety, The Comfort Book is intended to remind readers that the dark patches, while undeniably awful, don't last.
The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine N. Aron PhD (Random House, $45)
Once upon a time, highly sensitive people were told to "harden up" and get over themselves. Then, in 1996 this influential book was published and it became widely understood that sensitive people were not being dramatic – they were wired differently. This book helps the highly sensitive (and those who love them) to understand their need for quiet time, what situations can be overwhelming and what they can do to manage them.
Aroha, by Dr Hinemoa Elder (Penguin, $30)
A smash hit in 2021, this book offers a succinct life lesson for each week of the year, each one based on Māori wisdom as distilled by psychiatrist Dr Hinemoa Elder. The focus is on fostering contentment, kindness, peace and, yes, aroha. Concepts explored include manaakitanga (love for each other), whanaungatanga (community and connectivity) and tino rangatiratanga (self-determination). Ka pai.
The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, by Rheeda Walker (New Harbinger, $40)
Although written specifically for African Americans, this book offers a grounding in understanding the effects that racism, poverty and inequity in education and healthcare have on BIPOC mental health. Psychologist Rheeda Walker offers strategies for dealing with mental health services that do not produce equitable outcomes for people of colour, how to advocate for yourself and loved ones, and how to recognise mental health problems in the first place.
Touring New Zealand, Edwardian style
In November 1902, the travel agency Thomas Cook published a guide to what New Zealand offered, mainly to British tourists to the country. This remarkable volume, with the cumbersome title New Zealand as a Tourist and Health Resort: A Handbook to the Hot Lake District, the West Coast Road, the Southern Lakes, Mt. Cook, Sounds, Etc, provides an extremely rare insight into the nature of New Zealand at the start of the Edwardian era, and how this fledgling state wished to parade its attributes to overseas visitors. Read on here, in this extract from Paul Moon's new book on touring Edwardian New Zealand..
FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS WITH ISOBEL JOY TE AHO-WHITE
1. For those who don't know, what is The Astromancer, written by Witi Ihimaera and illustrated by yourself, about?
The Astromancer is a story about a girl named Ariā and her journey to fulfil her destiny with the help of the mentors and friends she makes. It incorporates some historical events, characters and pūrākau Māori, as well as details from a present day perspective so it could be taking place on an alternate timeline.
2. How did you get into illustrating children's books?
I started by making zines [homemade publications] about atua Māori and the medicinal uses of native plants and selling them at local markets. From there I made connections at School Journal and Huia Publishers, and it kind of snowballed from there.
3. What inspires you?
Taiāo [the environment], pūrākau [stories and legends], scientific illustration, learning and teaching and my own whakapapa.
4. What was it like to work with Witi Ihimaera?
Witi is lovely and has an incredibly sharp, creative mind. Though I was quite daunted by this project at first, Witi provided space for me to fully envision this world in my own way which allowed my creativity to flourish, mirroring the tuakana-teina [older-younger] relationship that is central to the story.
5. How will you celebrate Matariki?
With friends, food, and the night sky!