A feast of new Aotearoa New Zealand fiction

Welcome to our first round up of newly acquired fiction titles for 2024.

To start the year off we have  a veritable feast of daring, diverse and adventurous Aotearoa fiction titles, most of which have only just been released. The breadth, range, genres employed and subjects explored, not to mention different styles, in evidence is stunning and shows what a rich literary community we have in Aotearoa.

The novels range from Booker-nominated Anna Smaill’s second novel Bird Life, to a collection of short stories by Edmond Murray about Auckland called Aucklanders, a book in the same vein as James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Other Aotearoa picks include a historical romance called The Girl from London by Olivia Spooner. There is also Joy Holley’s much anticipated debut collection of short stories, Dream Girl, plus a climate change novel called Dear Tui by M . C Ronen. Also, just in from our own fair shores there is Checkerboard Hill by Jade Kake, Landed by Sue McCauley and, to round things off on the Aotearoa front, Everything I Have by Tammy Robinson.

There are also a couple of non-New Zealand novels we would like to squeeze in, worthy of special mention this month – Baumgartner, a new novel by one of America’s greatest modern writers Paul Auster, as well as new books by both Jean Kwok and Banana Yoshimoto.

Bird life / Smaill, Anna
“Bird Life, the second novel by Booker Prize longlisted author Anna Smaill, is a lyrical and ambitious exploration of madness and what it is like to experience the world differently. In Ueno Park, Tokyo, as workers and tourists gather for lunch, the pollen blows, a fountain erupts, pigeons scatter, and two women meet, changing the course of one another’s lives. Dinah has come to Japan from New Zealand to teach English and grieve the death of her brother, Michael, a troubled genius who was able to channel his problems into music as a classical pianist – until he wasn’t. In the seemingly empty, eerie apartment block where Dinah has been housed, she sees Michael everywhere, even as she feels his absence sharply.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Aucklanders / Edmond, Murray
“In the tradition of James Joyce’s Dubliners, Murray Edmond brings us Aucklanders, short stories that celebrate lives lived in New Zealand’s biggest city. Through different time-settings, and narrative styles, the tales are variously entertaining, funny, satirical, reflective and tragic. Sometimes they are a little gruesome or absurd. Yet these Aucklanders often feel oddly familiar. Among them we encounter a scared RSA waiter, a Zen sensei who keeps his followers guessing, a shy boy who breaks a neighbour’s hothouse with his shanghai slingshot, a famous drunken artist with a tortured legacy, and a delivery driver with a side hustle.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The girl from London / Spooner, Olivia
“London, 1940. Ruth, a young schoolteacher, volunteers as an escort helping to evacuate children from war-torn England to Australia and New Zealand. Her three-month voyage is fraught – their passage is perilous, and the children anxious and homesick. Nine-year-old Fergus is more troubled than most and Ruth forms an unexpected bond with the boy. It’s not just Fergus who captures Ruth’s attention. Bobby, a fellow volunteer who initially infuriates Ruth with his laidback charm, somehow gets under her skin and throws her ordered life into chaos…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Dream girl / Holley, Joy
“Alice wants a heart-shaped bed. Mary, Genevieve and Angelica want to know the future. June says she wants Lena to rescue her from a rat, but really she wants Lena to make out with her. Eve wants to get Wallace alone at the strawberry farm. Olivia just wants to leave the haunted boarding school and go home. Bittersweet and intimate, comic and gothic, Dream Girl is a collection of stories about young women navigating desire in all its manifestations. In stories of romance and bad driving, ghosts and ghosting, playlists and competitive pet ownership, love never fails to leave its mark.” (Catalogue)

Dear Tui : a warning / Ronen, M. C
“In 2023, nine-year-old Juniper Hawthorne, is playing happily on the beach near her house, with her older brother. Climate change is a real, impending threat, of which Juniper is very much aware. But it is a creeping evil, rather than a colossal, big-bang event, so, what would her life look like, growing up? How would she be impacted by this elusive, unknown, slow-brewing catastrophe? This powerful, gut-wrenching, relentless story follows Juniper throughout her life, in steady time-leaps, to reveal how her life, her family, and society at large, face the demise of life on planet Earth as we know it.” (Adapted  from Catalogue)

Checkerboard hill / Kake, Jade
“Checkerboard Hill is a story of belonging, dislocation, misunderstandings, identity and fractured relationships. When a family member dies in Australia, Ria flies from New Zealand and returns to the family and home in Australia she suddenly left decades before as a teenager. Waiting for her return are her husband and son in New Zealand. Neither family has met the other, and Ria has always kept her Maori, Australian, New Zealand identities and lives separate. But the family tensions, unfinished arguments, connections to places and meeting of former friends, lead Ria to revisit her memories and reflect on the social and cultural tensions and racism she experienced, and the decisions she made.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Landed : a novel / McCauley, Sue
“It’s the early 1990s in Timaru, and Brewer Howland has killed himself. His wife, Briar, is left stranded in a rapidly changing world. The future she took for granted has been obliterated and she must invent a new one. But how does a sixty-something widow go about creating a future for herself in a world she struggles to comprehend? She has taken a sharp right-hand turn into familiar territory, and everything seems to be rapidly changing: values, language, telephones, families, race relations, gadgets. Amid this tsunami of ‘progress’ Briar must decide how and where to live out her life…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Everything I have / Robinson, Tammy
“The last person Ellie ever expects to see back in Seclusion Bay is Sam. Widowed and clouded by grief, the moment he walks into her cafe, he makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with anyone…especially her. So, when she sees him tie a letter to a tree at the end of the bay, Ellie is intrigued. Desperate to help him navigate his grief, she puts pen to paper, and an exchange of anonymous letters begins. As they start to reconnect on and off the page, Ellie dares to hope that they both might get a second chance at happiness. The only problem is, Sam still has no idea that the heartfelt letters are coming from her. And as things between them start to heat up, and the line between friendship and love starts to blur, Ellie must find the courage to tell Sam the truth or risk losing him forever.”(Adapted from Catalogue)
Baumgartner : a novel / Auster, Paul
” Baumgartner’s life had been defined by his deep, abiding love for his wife, Anna, who was killed in a swimming accident nine years earlier. Now 71, Baumgartner continues to struggle to live in her absence as the novel sinuously unfolds into spirals of memory and reminiscence, delineated in episodes spanning from 1968, when Sy and Anna meet as broke students working and writing in New York, through their passionate relationship over the next forty years, and back to Baumgartner’s youth in Newark and his Polish-born father’s life as a dress-shop owner and failed revolutionary.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

The leftover woman : a novel / Kwok, Jean
“Jasmine Yang arrives in New York City from her rural Chinese village without money or family support, fleeing a controlling husband, on a desperate search for the daughter who was taken from her at birth–another female casualty of China’s controversial One Child Policy. But with her husband on her trail, the clock is ticking, and she’s forced to make increasingly desperate decisions if she ever hopes to be reunited with her daughter. Meanwhile, publishing executive Rebecca Whitney seems to have it all: a prestigious family name and the wealth that comes with it, a high-powered career, a beautiful home, a handsome husband, and an adopted Chinese daughter she adores…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The premonition : a novel / Yoshimoto, Banana
“Yayoi, a 19-year-old woman from a seemingly loving middle-class family, has lately been haunted by the feeling that she has forgotten something important from her childhood. Her premonition grows stronger day by day and, as if led by it, she decides to move in with her mysterious aunt, Yukino. No one understands her aunt’s unusual lifestyle. For as long as Yayoi can remember, Yukino has lived alone in an old gloomy single-family home, quietly, almost as though asleep. When she is not working, Yukino spends all day in her pajamas, clipping her nails and trimming her split ends. She eats only when she feels like it, and she often falls asleep lying on her side in the hallway. A child study desk, old stuffed animals-things Yukino wants to forget-are piled up in her backyard like a graveyard of her memories.” (Adapted from Catalogue)