I have been very lucky of late and part of my ‘haul’ was a copy of Martin Edmond’s new book Zone of the Marvellous that I won from Auckland University Press (and I checked - it was Raetihi). And since its NZ Book Month, I thought I’d write a bit about it here.*
This book was helped along with a Copyright Licensing Writers’ Award won by the author in 2007 and is a an amazing treasure box of fact, fiction, myth, history, fable and imagination in search of the antipodes. In eight discrete essays, the author writes that what he seeks “to do is describe how this other place was first rumoured, then imagined, then looked for, discovered, plundered, colonised and finally domesticated”.
Following the rather ‘straight’, yet lyrical telling of the historical story in The Supply Party (Edmond’s last book), Zone of the Marvellous goes back to the densely packed stories and tangents found in Luca Antara. For me Supply Party had strong undertones of loss and absence. Zone, although also telling tales of journeys, is much richer. Perhaps simply a contrast of the Australian outback to the tropics of the Pacific and the Asian spice routes.
Reviews I have read only touched lightly on the final chapter After Erewhon yet I had to restrain myself from not jumping to that one first. Here Edmond considers “artists, of those who continue the dialogue between the real and ideal in their work” with a particular focus on Sidney Nolan and Colin McCahon. This exploration of the antipodes in a rather different form from the other chapters is quite a contrast, unless you consider these artists as adventurers and risk takers as much as Marco Polo, Dampier, or Cook.
I hadn’t considered McCahon and Nolan as ‘near contemporaries’ before and it is very interesting to consider them in terms of the “Holy Yes and the Holy No as equal and opposite paths to enlightenment“. This chapter has given me much food for thought and Edmond’s analysis of McCahon’s work is quite a different take from much that I have read before.
My only quibble over the whole book is that it might have been nice to have included some illustrations, particularly of the ancients maps discussed. However it is sparked my interest to go and seek these out myself.
I liked this book for many reasons; the continuing themes of journeys and exploration in much of Edmond’s work, the new ideas and stories it led me to. However, it was the beautiful writing that kept me reading it almost straight through in one sitting. It is history not in an academic style but as a yarn or epic, told by the fire with all the embellishment and intrigue that suggests.
* Apologies, all my ‘reviews’ end up sounding like something you’d write for high school English
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