The Christmas "silly season", when the oddest of news trivia gets beaten up into headlines, traditionally climaxes with a flurry of coarse language and bare buttocks at the Harawira family circus on Waitangi Day. But this year, Titewhai and her whanau have been gazumped by literary prima donna Eleanor Catton.
After Catton's recent tantrum, this Friday's Harawira vaudeville show is going to seem so lame.
Since winning Britain's Man Booker Prize a year ago for her novel The Luminaries, Catton has been popping up at literary festivals all around the world, promoting the book for all it's worth. Authors make out that smooching the readers is an awful chore, but I'm guessing it beats not winning the prize, and having to slink back home to a lonely garret, surrounded by piles of unsold books.
Recently, in Jaipur, India, she spoke of the trials of being an underappreciated intellectual in New Zealand. She later explained, "I've been speaking freely to foreign journalists ever since I was first published overseas, and have criticised the Key Government, neo-liberal values, and our culture of anti-intellectualism many times".
Until now, this had escaped radio shock jock Sean Plunket's notice. But in the lottery of the silly season, he fell upon her Jaipur comments, pulled out his blunderbuss, and shot her down as a treacherous hua. Dragged into the act, Prime Minister John Key was more restrained, dismissing her as a "Green" supporter and admitting he hadn't finished her 800-page-plus magnum opus.
Still, it engineered just what you want on a publicity tour. Publicity. Something to nudge those who hadn't bought the book to splash out.
The Catton whanau didn't see it that way, philosopher father Dr Philip Catton and his daughter circling the wagons and letting fly at all and sundry.
In a foot-stamping encyclical, the author threatened that "in future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails".
In the Guardian, she condemned "the scale and shabbiness of this jingoistic national tantrum", which "ashames me deeply as a New Zealander".
It could only be countered, she said, "with eloquence, imagination, and reasoned debate - qualities that might seem to have disappeared from our national conversation".
Plunket's rant was indeed shabby. But so was Catton's attempt to escalate one man's outburst into a "jingoistic national tantrum" and threaten to wander the world spreading the fiction that New Zealand is some sort of South Seas Putinesque dictatorship.
Just as shabby was her swipe at the local book world, complaining that having won the Man Booker Prize, she should also have won the New Zealand Post Book Award main prize. "There was this kind of thing that now you've won this prize from overseas, we're not going to celebrate it here, we're going to give the award to somebody else."
I look forward to her homecoming interview with Radio New Zealand's feisty Kim Hill. It will be very interesting. Hill was one of the five NZ Post judges.
Catton won the prize for best novel. Wasn't that enough? If she'd been beaten by a cookbook, I might have sympathised. But the judges' choice for best book of any category, Jill Trevelyan's biography of Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavy, was hardly a surrender to the Neanderthals.
Hard as it may be for Catton to accept, the judges might not have considered her the centre of the world. After all, three of the five had close ties to the art world that McLeavy nurtured. Dick Frizzell is a painter. Poet and novelist Elizabeth Smither is ex-wife of artist Michael Smither, and academic and one-time Labour MP Peter Simpson is a curator of art shows and biographer of artists Colin McCahon and Leo Bensemann.
With 150 books to choose from and that background, it's easy to see why this judging panel saw no need to be overawed by the decision of judges in a different contest in London.
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