Harbouring by Jenny Pattrick
To harbour is to maintain secretive thoughts or feelings in one’s mind, especially when those thoughts or feelings are secretive. As well as this, there is the logical connection with sea voyage and the docking of a ship in a, presumably safe, harbour. Certainly the image on the front of the book of a woman wearing 1800s attire looking pensively off into the horizon fits both the concept of withheld thoughts, and some sort of early immigrant lifestyle. These interpretations of the word harbouring, are bang on the money as exemplified in the first few pages of the wonderful Jenny Pattrick’s new novel Harbouring. A fitting presentation of the life and times of European settlers to New Zealand around the 1840s.
The time frame is tumultuous for the shaky isles. This era in Aotearoa, New Zealand’s history is peppered with stories of relationships built and lost with the Māori, newcomers making new lives, and the changing face of a new nation with cities seemingly erupting out of the sleepy farmland. Using this challenging environment as a backdrop, Pattrick places her protagonists Martha and Huw (both poverty stricken Welsh immigrants) to drive the narrative of life for these immigrants who come to New Zealand in order to find a new life, but end up struggling to find their feet in this burgeoning society.
Relationships with the ‘natives’ (as they are commonly referred to by the European settlers) are strained at times, but through the eyes of Huneroa, a young Māori wahine whose life is dominated by oppression and - although the word is never used, it is really slavery - the story takes some unexpected turns and the connection between these people begin to emerge.
Pattrick’s knowledge of characterisation both in her previous works and throughout Harbouring is exemplary. She is able to catapult the reader into the world of these characters seamlessly, pushing the plot forward in crafted and meticulous fashion. The reader really does feel as though they know these characters on the page as individuals, as real people. We feel and respond along with their plights as we might with a colleague, or friend. Similarly, it is Pattrick’s inherent ability to keep the reader guessing. Despite having the sense of a beautiful tranquil journey through historical drama a la Green Gables, there are elements of the story that are tremendously engaging, gripping, and unexpected. That Māori voice, subplot and exploration being one of them.
In essence, it is almost the story behind the story. Usually from this era of New Zealand there are the knowns (the Wakefields for example) who are long written about, and contemporised through modern literature, and then there are the unknowns. And it is the unknowns that Jenny Pattrick - like in other books by her - has been able to capture and expound on the virtues of, in such an interesting way.
Overall, Pattrick’s Harbouring is a real gem of a novel. It is sure to find its way into the heart of every reader it meets. Certainly sits strongly in the memory and the revelation of life, as it was, in those challenging, but remarkable times in our nation’s history.
Reviewer: Chris Reed