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The Author's Cut by Owen Marshall

Asking a reviewer to write a literary review to an Owen Marshall short story collection is tantamount to asking a musician to write a song in response to Crowded House’s Greatest Hits collection - nigh on impossible to really do it the justice it deserves. Owen Marshall has, for many decades, been one of New Zealand preeminent writers and will be taught and retaught in English Literature classes in schools and universities here in Aotearoa (and internationally!) for decades more.

As a collection, there are classics like The Fat Boy, Mr Van Gogh and The Rule of Jenny Pen - staples of any New Zealand writing anthology - and some of the more recent writing such as the inspiration for the newly released Sundance film of the same name: Coming Home in the Dark. Charting the progression of his writing over the years is a wonderfully rich analytical point in and of itself.

Marshall presents New Zealand-ness in all its shiny (and tarnished) glory. He holds up what it is to be a kiwi and inspects it from all angles. There is a beautifully confronting and authentic way in which he achieves this examination, something that captures the imagination of the reader with that dichotomy of wanting to look away, but being compelled to continue.

Surely the master of the poetic lyricism of the short story genre here in New Zealand, Marshall was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2002 from the University of Canterbury and has curated more anthologies than most of us have had hot dinners.

If there is one complaint, it is the lack of new material in this collection. ‘The Author’s Cut’ is - as the name implies - Marshall’s own selection of stories drawn from his thirteen previous collections which, while remarkable, lacks that freshness in the promise of new stories. However, fellow lovers of Owen Marshall’s stories will find a treasure trove of material all neatly packaged in this one compendium.

Being taught at university that the short story genre is one of the most challenging of the forms (due to the expectation of the audience, the concision of the writing and the poetic layering required to capture the essence of characterisation, setting and thematic development) it is easy to see how Owen Marshall has been a successful writer in this area.

In this collection, his expertise in all aspects of short story writing - and writing in general - is celebrated in all its glory. Any writer, or in fact any New Zealander worth their salt needs to be exposed to the cheekiness of The Fat Boy, the intrigue of End of Term and the raw energy of Coming Home in the Dark.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Random House NZ


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