2019 NZ Book Awards

The past few years have been an interesting time globally as opinions around nationalism and free-speech have become hot topics.

Yet, is it new? Or is history simply repeating itself in a more raw, no-holds-barred medium? Perhaps we can look back on history and treat it not as the past but as a conductor of the future. Key times in history can surely be directly linked to both our fearless exploration of life, and also our deepest fears. What a tremendous feeding trough for the writers of today – it’s no surprise they are exploring this evolution of thought in today’s works.

This year’s Ockham shortlist for fiction is reflective of this investigation of ourselves. Whereas we remember last year’s shortlist as fresh novels full of Millennial angst and discovery, this year’s shortlist is filled with seasoned Kiwi writers with publications and life experience a plenty. And it’s interesting to see how each has won their place with a novel that explores the past and its connection to today. They ask us to look to history for explanation of our current situation and to perhaps re-examine or learn anew. Ultimately they look at how people in history were treated and how we treat one another now. What have we learned?

All This By Chance is a multi-generational saga in which descendants of Holocaust survivors find their lives shaped unwittingly by events of the past.

In the wake of 9/11, The New Ships‘ Peter Collie relives his lives and loves after his wife’s death. He and his son become involved in personal quests of their own to discover who they really are.

The Cage‘s setting could be any immigrant camp and its refugees any number of people from the past or even today who are displaced and living a life of maltreatment.

The Mortal Boy examines one of the final executions in New Zealand and the punishment’s eventual abolition, highlighting the way in which a country and its people’s morals can change.

Bearing in mind that question, what has history taught us about our treatment and mistreatment of one another, both Suzy and Rachel felt most connected to Lloyd Jones’ The Cage. While all the books detailed important moments in history and ethical treatment issues, Jones’ metaphorical prose reminded us exactly how exclusion is still rife today in so many ways, not just of refugees or immigrants, as his characters are, but of family, of strangers we don’t understand, of people with an opinion that differs from our own.

Jones’ book put us right in the middle of the conflict. It made us complicit in the way Doc and Mole were treated. Yes it disgusted us how they were kept like animals but at the same time it disgusted us to hear any more about their shit-covered living conditions. It is a book designed to provoke both good and ugly reactions from its readers. And for this reason it is not just literary fodder, it is a socially moral text too.

Suffice to say, we’re right behind Lloyd Jones for the win.

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