Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 29, 2015

Starlight Peninsula, by Charlotte Grimshaw #BookReview

Starlight Peninsula Charlotte Grimshaw is a widely-acclaimed author from New Zealand, winner of the 2006 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award and a string of prizes for her pithily titled fiction:
Provocation (1999); Guilt (2000); Foreign City (2005); Opportunity (2007); Singularity (2009); The Night Book (2010); and Soon (2012).  I don’t like her terse, unadorned writing style, but I found myself drawn into her latest novel, Starlight Peninsula in spite of myself…

It’s the story of a young woman called Eloise Hay who belatedly realises that there’s something odd about the death of her lover, Arthur.  When the story opens the husband she married on the rebound has just left her, and her grief about that rekindles her memories of the shocking day when she came home to Auckland to find the police at her home and the discovery of his body.

Eloise works in media, support staff to the beautiful people who read the news.  The big story at the time she has her existential crisis is the prospect of a prime ministerial dumping because his polls are poor.  There’s also an Julian Assange-type internet hacker who has ruffled international feathers and is wanted by the United States.  None of this seems connected to Eloise and the misery which drives her to see a psychiatrist – until she starts asking the questions she was too shocked to ask at the time of Arthur’s death.  He was an author who pillaged the lives of others for material, and he was poking around in old personal histories that others would rather keep private…

Apart from Eloise’s small personal circle – her obnoxious mother Demelza; her long-suffering sister Carina and her strangely nicknamed daughter The Sparkler; the psychiatrist Klaudia, her handsome new neighbour Simon and her work colleagues, there’s a bewildering cast of off-stage political and media characters who populate the story.  Like the real media and political people in our everyday lives, these characters eventually become familiar and settle into the wallpaper of the story, a story which in a compelling conclusion reveals connections that link ordinary people in society with the rich and powerful.

Grimshaw has an impressive way of using very spare prose to construct atmosphere.  In Opportunity (a collection of linked short stories) I found this style tiresome, and though the book was short-listed for a major international prize, (the Frank O’Connor Award), not to mention the NZ Montana Fiction award and medal for Fiction, I abandoned it.   (See my *blush* somewhat churlish review). But the greater length of this novel allows the atmosphere to build, creating undeniable tension as the pieces start to come together, and the character of Eloise is masterly.  She drinks too much – far too much – and so like the other characters in whom she confides, the reader distrusts her narrative.  It’s very well done.

For Aussie readers and those beyond, there’s also the added attraction of discovering a bewitching landscape with flora and fauna that may send you scuttling off to Google some images!

Author: Charlotte Grimshaw
Title: Starlight Peninsula
Publisher: Vintage (Penguin) New Zealand, 2015
ISBN: 9781775538226
Review copy courtesy of Penguin New Zealand

Availability

Fishpond: Starlight Peninsula


Responses

  1. I will keep my eye it for this. I loved “Soon” and bought a couple of her other books (as yet unread) on the strength of it.

  2. My eye out (it’s been a long day)

  3. Hi Kim, thanks for dropping by on a ‘long day’ *empathetic smile*.
    I also like the sound of Soon, I suspect that she’s a more ‘political’ author than she seems… if I knew anything about NZ politics, perhaps I would recognise allusions. Maybe when things have settled up north, I will make a short trip over, the advantage being that it’s not so far to come home if there’s an urgent recall.

  4. Just in passing, the “Julian Assange” character is probably an allusion to Kim Dotcom, a NZ/German/Finnish internet entrepreneur who invented Megaupload and thereby got up the noses of the Americans.

    • Thanks for this comment, it made me think about other issues raised by the book.
      Maybe the character is an amalgam of this type of person. I mean, an author would have to be careful not to make characters based on people in the public eye too recognisable – in case of getting sued.
      (I suspect that Penguin’s lawyers would have given this MS some careful scrutiny before publication).
      This character in the book is an interesting one: I think book clubs would have lively discussions about the ethics of hacking… re WikiLeaks et al where there could conceivably be a case made that some of the leaks might be in the public interest and that greater transparency in government is a good thing. On the other hand, some of those leaks have put people in danger and have caused serious problems in international relations between allies. Less edifying have been the leaks that were just nasty gossip and released to cause scandal.
      So I myself am uneasy about the decision about what’s ok to leak and what’s not being made by a self-appointed guardian of that kind of information – and also the fact that only Western governments are scrutinised like this but not other countries like China. And I don’t like the idea that WikiLeaks info can be accessed by religious and political nutters and terrorists. So I’m ambivalent about Assange et al.
      The same kind of issue was raised in Simon Mawer’s Tightrope re the leaking of A-bomb secrets to the Soviets. It made me wonder what kind of world we would have today if the US were still the only ones to have nuclear weapons technology.
      But there’s been that recent case of hackers getting into the marriage cheating site which raises personal moralities. In the book the hacker’s attitude is that he just provided the software so he bears no responsibility…

  5. As for your last sentence, yes, that’s just a cop out (by the hacker I mean). But my general opinion is that whistleblowers, and especially Wikileaks, are the good guys, that governments are using secrecy to manipulate voters and that the US government uses state power to advance the interest of US corporations at the expense of everyone else eg. the secret clauses in the Trans Pacific Partnership which are intended to prevent future Australian governments from regulating anti-social behaviour by US multinationals. At the moment I think that governments and big business are far more successful at protecting their ‘privacy’ than are we individuals at protecting ours and I think that balance has to change.

    • Yes, I think you’re right about that. It’s the governance of WikiLeaks which is almost an institution now, that bothers me.


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