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Man Down by John Black


Man Down is a novel by debut author John Black. It is a challenging and thoroughly provocative view of the life of Martin King, an author himself and also an assistant librarian at the North Shag Rock Public Library. Certainly a man who has higher expectations and aspirations for himself as well as a healthy sense of self importance in all that he does. Under the watchful gaze of the head librarian, Erica Polwart, Martin is forced to submit to the mediocrity of his experiences, and the small town New Zealand in which he resides.


With some streamlining in the library, there is some concern that Martin may be on the block. Indeed, some of the finest and funniest moments of the novel come through as he begins some acts of espionage to undermine his fellow colleagues with the ambition of sabotage.


Much of the novel satirises the expectations and image-obsessed culture and times in which we live. There are some interesting takes on colonisation, and statues that glorify those early settlers which ‘need’ to be removed by the authorities, and gives the protagonist an opportunity to make a name for himself in the crazy world in which he perceives he lives.

Written in the third person focusing on Martin and his rather eccentric take on things, and presenting some confronting ideas in our current times with a clear and consistent voice, Black is able to capture a sense of satire in the way that we all work as a society and a nation.


The writing itself is well-constructed with a thorough and engaging style and takes the opportunity to critique some of the more politically correct elements of society through the presentation of events and circumstances that are relatable and ultimately humorous. Black’s confident approach and witty dialogue results in an easy read and an entertaining plot driven by the satire.


Some of the figures in the novel fit with a stock expectation of characters in New Zealand which gives Man Down a caricatured approach that definitely cuts a little close to the bone at times. While humorous, there are some moments which certainly hit on aspects that are increasingly considered in the realms of ‘off-limits’ in modern media.


Overall, the story is straightforward to read and engaging in the approach. It raises some interesting points and challenging instances that create the platform for Black to present an ideological perspective. Of particular note is the ending which has a definite ambiguity to it. It finishes a little quick, although perhaps setting up the opportunity to present a sequel.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Tross Publishing