THE LOVELOCK VERSION by Maurice Shadbolt


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The Lovelock brothers--Herman, Richard, James--were actual historical settlers in 19th-century up-river New Zealand; suave novelist Shadbolt (Strangers and Journeys, etc.), himself a distant relation and already the author of a short pamphlet on the clan's doughty fortunes, now has taken a big breath and blown up a great balloon on which to float their story, much-embellished (in a wry, literary manner) and imaginatively filled-in. Given an angelic message while a gold-miner in the New Zealand fields, Herman Lovelock gathers brothers and wife and children and sets off to. . . somewhere. There's a respite of profitable years in a boom-town named Hokitika (where Herman's wife dies and where he takes another--Marie-Louise, a maternal and culinary wizard); but this is followed by a coastal voyage during which the entire clan is shipwrecked near the forbidding Porangi River. The Maori there are very hostile, yet the Lovelocks are assimilated rather than digested--and for a spell they even act as Maori warriors fighting against the British. When finally given their freedom, the clan settles down, each brother claiming and working territory congruent to his nature: Herman's Lovelock Junction (a dream of order); Richard's Dixtown (development, avarice, foul play); and James' Spanish Creek (Tolstoyan utopia). The brothers all soon spin out their own generations and little by little the modern world creeps upriver in the form of labor trouble for Richard, The Great War for Lovelock sons David and Daniel, and the end of the hidden outpost of family kingdom. Shadbolt is a literate charmer, squeezing and pinching-up re-creations and fabulations with humor and rue--but he frequently overdoes it, to the point of knife-on-china archness. There are fine scenes here--James' experience in an apocalyptic earthquake, the building of Lovelock Junction, the massacre at Gallipoli--but you begin to share much of Shadbolt's knowing discomfort with historical narrative, his constant asides. . . which means that a lot of necessary intimacy is joked away. Too tongue-in-cheek for fans of wilderness-family sagas, then, too slippery and hesitant in tone for devotees of Shadbolt's more serious fiction--an overextended, though often engaging, experiment in mixing literary sophistication with historical-novel conventions.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's