Reading the NZ Book Awards Longlist: Fiction

The longlist for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards has been announced, with 40 books nominated across four categories: fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction. Now it’s up to the judges to decide who makes the shortlist, which means a lot of reading and re-reading and note-taking and interesting and (possibly) heated discussions.

Sound like your kind of thing? Then why not join the judges by reading your way through the longlisted fiction below (for poetry titles click here, and general non-fiction titles, click here). The shortlist is announced on March 4, so you’ve still got time! Perhaps take some leave, sneak off to a dark corner of the office, maybe barricade the front door of your house–and get reading!

The absolute book / Knox, Elizabeth
“Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-concieved revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good. There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Necessary secrets / McGee, Greg
“Spanning the four seasons of a year, Necessary Secrets tells the story of Dennis (Den) Sparks and his three adult children. Starting with Den contemplating his mortality on the day of his 70th birthday, the year ahead is told from four different points of view. A searing picture of NZ society today, the family deals with love, loss, financial struggles, drugs, domestic violence, and all the issues that Kiwis deal with daily. McGee turns a spotlight on the social issues of New Zealanders while making for an entertaining read.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Auē / Manawatu, Becky
“Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding, and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to another violent home. But Arama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Moonlight sonata / Merriman, Eileen
“It’s the annual New Year family get-together. Molly is dreading having to spend time with her mother, but she is pleased her son will see his cousins and is looking forward to catching up with her brothers . . . Joe in particular. Under the summer sun, family tensions intensify, relationships become heightened and Molly and Joe will not be the only ones with secrets that must be kept hidden. ‘No one must ever know.’” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Pearly Gates : a novel / Marshall, Owen
“Pat `Pearly’ Gates has achieved a lot in his life and evinces considerable satisfaction in his achievements. He has a reputation as a former Otago rugby player and believes he would have been an All Black but for sporting injuries. He runs a successful real-estate agency in a provincial South Island town, of which he is the second-term mayor. Popular, happily married, well established, he cuts an impressive figure, especially in his own eyes. But will his pride and complacency come before a fall?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Attraction / Porter, Ruby
“Winner of the inaugural Michael Gifkins Prize for an Unpublished Novel, Ruby Porter is an exciting new voice in New Zealand literature. The present reckons with the past in Attraction. Porter’s unnamed narrator is on a road trip across New Zealand with her friends Ashi and Ilana, haunted by the specter of her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, her complicated family background and New Zealand’s colonial history. Jealousies intensify as the young women work out who they are and who they might become.” (Catalogue)

A mistake / Shuker, R. Carl
“Elizabeth Taylor is a surgeon at a city hospital, a gifted, driven and rare woman excelling in a male-dominated culture. One day, while operating on a young woman in a critical condition, something goes gravely wrong. A Mistake is a compelling story of human fallibility, and the dangerous hunger for black and white answers in a world of exponential complication and nuance. ‘A Mistake is a masterpiece which feels more like a body than a book – the life pumps and glugs and flexes inside its pages.’ — Pip Adam” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Halibut on the moon / Vann, David
“Middle-aged and deeply depressed, Jim arrives in California from Alaska and surrenders himself to the care of his brother Gary. Swinging from manic highs to extreme lows, Jim wanders ghost-like through the remains of his old life attempting to find meaning. As sessions with his therapist become increasingly combative and his connections to others seem ever more tenuous, Jim is propelled forward by his thoughts, which have the potential to lead him, despairingly, to his end.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Lonely Asian woman / Lam, Sharon
“In the shallows of the internet Paula is pushed to a moment of profound realisation: she, too, is but a lonely Asian woman looking for fun. Lonely Asian Woman is a wildly sentimental book about a life populated by doubles and transient friends, whirrs of off-kilter bathroom fans and divinatory whiffs of chlorine.” (Catalogue)

Loving Sylvie / Smither, Elizabeth
“A sensual, witty novel that weaves together the stories of three women, beautifully written by one of our most clever wordsmiths. Elizabeth Smither takes us into the richly imagined worlds of three women, written with such beautifully deft skill as to make them vivid and alive.” (Catalogue)

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