I was clutching a copy of The Bookseller at the End of the World when my partner announced that we were not going to be spending two weeks camped at Wanaka after all. No, this was not to be the Central Otago autumn splendour tour I had imagined.
Instead, he said, we were also going to take side trips to Milford Sound and Te Anau. These places he knew to be on my bucket list which, by virtue of a lot of luck, the generosity of the aforesaid partner, and a formerly great occupation as a domestic travel writer, were rapidly diminishing.
Fiordland was a big one to tick off. I’d been as close to it as a wee ways along the road from Riverton to Tuatapere, and I was excited to finally enter the region which I knew to be full of dramatic scenery, and to travel on some new-to-me roads.
By the time we left Wanaka, I’d been sitting in the late afternoon sun beside the lake reading The Bookseller at the End of the World for a couple of days. So much so that a woman camped nearby suggested that since I was clearly a booklover, I pop into a newly opened bookshop in Wanaka. The bookshop, The Next Chapter, is a destination in itself and I bought two wonderful books there. But that is another story.
Meanwhile, it had dawned on me that Manapouri – the location of the two tiny bookshops central to the The Bookseller at the End of the World – was a short drive from our next base in Te Anau. At that stage, I didn’t dare hope that I would get to visit. But as you can see my mate is full of surprises, and a few days later I was standing in front of the two wee (closed!) bookshops at Manapouri.
By then I was sufficiently into Ruth Shaw’s extraordinary book that this small act felt like a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage I was to make three times over the next few days and not once did we arrive in time to see the bookshops open. It was a rare unlucky stroke during what was a spectacularly lucky trip in every other way. The weather was divine, each and every new place exceeded its reputation, and I finished the book with a far greater understanding of the author’s extraordinary grit and gift.
Ruth Shaw’s shocking, honest, and ultimately redemptive autobiography is one of the finest I’ve read. Her trials and tribulations are all laid bare in an elegant, easy-to-read, thought-provoking and beautifully-designed hardcover book which is brim full of her lifelong adventures (think beyond your wildest dreams of pirates and prostitutes) interspersed with anecdotes from her charming bookshops. I am in awe of Ruth’s ability to write so fearlessly. I only wish I’d been able to tell her so in person.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Allen and Unwin