By SUE YOUNGER
Soon after Daryl Jenkins arrives in Wales to attempt reconciliation with her estranged father he takes her on a nature ramble and they discover the mud puppy - a large freshwater newt that is supposed to exist only in America - which as well as introducing some rather clunky symbolism (fish out of water: get it?) sets the scene for some anti-science diatribes later on.
The visit to Wales is a chance for Daryl to (unsuccessfully) confront her father over the fact that he lied to her about her mother's suicide. As a result, she hasn't spoken to him for nine years.
Daryl seeks comfort in the arms of a young petrol pump attendant, Ani, an intense girl longing for escape from Wales and obsessively fantasising about finding fame and fortune in New York.
Daryl and Ani, two misfits, share the narrative voice effortlessly and, although both are horribly self-absorbed, they are reasonably well-drawn characters, their story engaging in an odd way.
The not-really-a-love-story is fresh and non-traditional.
Ani sees Daryl only as a possible means of escape and, at first, Daryl seems to romanticise Ani as somehow free to be herself because she is working-class.
Thankfully, though, Wooff shatters this illusion as Ani's descent into madness proves her to be anything but strong or free.
While the first part of the book shows potential and complexity - Daryl's failure to come to any kind of resolution about her mother's death is moving and her love-hate relationship with her national identity and the Welsh landscape is interesting - unfortunately, near the end, it deteriorates into an embarrassing lecture on Daryl's (and, presumably, Wooff's) New Age philosophies.
Fashionably anti-scientific, anti-intellectual and rather nonsensical theories on the nature of the universe and the nature of art completely take over.
Tedious pseudo-profound statements abound, such as: "But in order to reach inside the wellspring of our being, we first have to embrace all our own imperfections and those of the people around us."
If, like me, you're not the reaching-inside-the-wellspring-of-your-being type, be warned - it gets hard to take.
* Penelope Bieder is a freelance writer; Cheryl Sucher is a Dunedin writer; Sue Younger is an Auckland documentary-maker.
By SUE YOUNGER