Charlotte Grimshaw is an award wining short story writer, novelist, and reviewer. In The Night Book Grimshaw takes a sharp look at contemporary society. It’s like a cut away slice. Like she’s driven a big knife into a model of the earth and pulled out a wedge, so we can see the different layers. This is New Zealand. Her characters are rich, successful, suburban, but they all come from humble backgrounds. There’s Simon, the doctor living in the shadow of an embarrassing father and a poor upbringing, content to be happy but waiting for something to change. And Roza, wife of ‘the’ David Hallwright, Leader of the National Party. Soon, she’ll become the wife of the Prime Minister. But she’s got her own secrets, and she too is running away from a former life, and a former self.
It’s a world of appearances. Rules. And one by one they are slowly stripped away.
The setting alternates between the upmarket mansions of Party supporters and the squalid streets of South Auckland. Grimshaw describes both in lush detail that makes it easy to imagine. The story follows both Simon and Roza as they try to understand and deal with the strange bond between them. Their families, the children especially, were gloriously realistic. Claire, the bitchy, misunderstood teen was my favourite. You can just see her. You know someone like her. Maybe you were her. Also, David Hallwright was an interesting figure throughout the book. He’s largely inarticulate, and walks with a bit of a limp. He seems timid, harmless, but for his eyes, power, and enormous wealth. His fierce loyalty to Roza made him so much more vulnerable to me. Definitely a fascinating character.
The subplot with the beautiful Maori woman Mereana, and it’s suggestive conclusion, gave the story a sinister undertone. I felt like it was there the whole time, and you just had to wait a while before you got a real whiff of nastiness. Every character has a hint of it, and by the end of the book you have to re-evaluate what you thought you knew about all of them. I’m still not sure if I like Simon or not. Roza is an enigma. Even David is mysterious. But that’s what makes it great. That old adage: things are not always as they seem.
The Night Book has everything – good story, a nice build up of tension, stand-out characters and, above all, excellent writing. Highly recommended.