DUNEDIN by Shena Mackay


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 The long consequences of lust and child abuse in distant New Zealand, limned in scenes of dark humor, horror, and unexpected redemptive love by the much gifted British writer Mackay (A Bowl of Cherries, 1992, etc.). With the exception of the first and last chapters, set in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1909 and 1910, respectively, the story takes place in an end-of-history sort of England: specifically, South London--a shabby, menacing place with a ``drainy smell,'' where stores are boarded up, panhandlers are everywhere, and ruined houses, in whose overgrown gardens foxes now live, are occupied by ill-assorted outcasts. When Jack Mackenzie, a reluctant Presbyterian minister, accepts the offer of a position in New Zealand, he is more interested in natural science than in theology. Though married with three children, he is also as much beguiled by the family's half-caste laundress, Myrtile, as the with the exotic flora he finds in his new country. Fast-forward then to the present, as middle-aged Olive and William Mackenzie, children of Jack's son Sandy, a lovable but compulsive con man indelibly warped by his father's cruelty, reluctantly share William's house. Olive, divorced, is recovering from an affair with novelist Terry Turner; William, who gave up his beloved teaching when a student under his supervision was murdered, is equally unhappy. Over a year's time, Olive impulsively steals a baby (William returns it somehow); picks fights with friends; and, alone on holiday, finally acknowledges ``the pain she has caused'' others, and her inadvertent role in her mother's death. William also finds love and peace, but the darkest consequence of distant Dunedin is orphan Jay Pascal, a product of Jack Mackenzie's lust, whose desperate experiences in England, though horrifying in their telling, never quite tie in with the rest. A rich feast to be enjoyed page by page as Mackay, in often dazzling prose, describes the hilarious antics of bibulous writers or, with moving lyricism, those ``surprised by joy.''

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-55921-093-1
Page count: 296pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993


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