Polaroid Nights by Lizzie Harwood
The memory of Laura Solomon and her writing has been preserved with the installation of an award (commissioned by the wonderful Cuba Press and the New Zealand Society of Authors) celebrating New Zealand talent in the field of novel writing. In 2020 Lizzie Harwood was awarded the inaugural prize for the manuscript of her novel Polaroid Nights. Winners of the award are required to take a ‘unique or original vision’.
In the case of Lizzie Harwood, Polaroid Nights captures the spirit, energy and psyche of the Auckland nightlife of the mid to late 1990s. Like a polaroid photograph, the images slowly develop after a long and full night on the town.
Our protagonist, Betty, is suspected of more than a heavy night on the town, rather she has found herself in quite a bit of trouble with the authorities. As a waitress, she works for the purpose of providing her with the resource to go out and enjoy life.
With the real life threat of nefarious activity in Auckland in so much as there a serial rapist on the loose, Harwood captures the overpowering sense of concern and fear on the part of the revellers at the time. A time that still reigns heavy on the minds of those of a certain generation.
For Betty, such matters do not let her become affected and hold her back. Instead the hedonism of the time is reflected in the endless lists of cocktails and aperitifs. Harwood’s representation of the bars and nightspots of the 1990s.
Effortlessly shifting between humour and horror, Harwood’s ability to create tension and atmosphere is wonderfully effective. There are some points that almost reflect the indie films of the time, flitting between scenes with sometimes jarring effect, culminating so brilliantly in a Tarantino-esque sequence in the climax of the whole narrative.
The dialogue is brilliant and soars above the story itself with authenticity, driving the whole thing along. Harwood creates a foundational atmosphere of fear and concern in the face of evidence that mounts up throughout. It permeates the drama and creates the fictional storyline based on the true events of the time.
Overall, the novel is a beautiful capturing of the impulsive, flamboyant and downright heady atmosphere of the 1990s in Ponsonby and the central city. The mystery of the whole novel unravelling itself and the investigatory ability of Betty alongside the whole sordid adventure develops like, well, a polaroid.
Reviewer: Chris Reed