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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Space Between By Lauren Keenan

Updated: Mar 15

Set at the brink of the New Zealand Wars in 1860, author Lauren Keenan’s debut is a gripping historical novel. As English settlers clash with local iwi in colonial Taranaki, the lives of two women, Frances and Matāria become surprisingly intertwined.

Frances, a once-respected Londoner, is unmarried and newly landed in New Zealand with her mother and brother. She finds herself navigating the unfamiliar terrain of settler life after her family’s financial fall from grace in England. Meanwhile, Matāria is married to the enigmatic Henry White and is shunned by her own whānau due to the controversial marriage. She grapples with her identity and whether to follow Māori customs or the Pākehā ways? More importantly, who is the cause of the tension between Māori and the settlers and will it lead to war?

In the township, when Frances unexpectedly comes face-to-face with the man who jilted her a decade earlier, she soon discovers he’s married to Matāria. Their lives could not be more different, yet they both question their belonging. Will either of them ever truly belong, or will they remain in the uncomfortable space between?

As local tensions escalate, both women must confront their pasts and find the courage to speak their truth, even if it means risking everything.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of those who came before us. While researching and writing my Master of Arts thesis on New Zealand history, I spent many hours determinedly ignoring anything resembling academic analysis. Instead, I would read and re-read the stories of those who were alive during Aotearoa New Zealand’s tumultuous past, all the while thinking: what did it feel like to live through that?says author Lauren Keenan.

“That experience sowed a seed in my mind – one that I nurtured over the years, until it grew into a novel that combined my research with fictional voices, putting both colonial and Māori women in the centre of the frame,” she says, hoping readers are curious about the daily lives of those who experienced New Zealand at this time.

Lauren’s riveting narrative unfolds through the dual perspectives of these women within the larger conflict unfolding around them. Laura seamlessly blends drama, romance and societal upheaval, with what she describes as ‘learning by stealth’. Incredibly engaging, I know most New Zealanders will gain a deeper appreciation of our history by reading The Space Between. I was also pleased to learn Lauren chose not to translate the Te Reo Māori in the book.

Instead, non-Te Reo speaking readers have the opportunity to gain meaning through the broader context. This technique is an excellent way of immersing readers in the cultural context of the story.

With its captivating story, vivid imagery and compelling characters, The Space Between is wonderfully evocative. Lauren’s storytelling transported me to a tumultuous period in our history, exploring themes of love, resilience and the search for belonging. A riveting historical novel and highly recommended reading!

Lauren Keenan (Te Āti Awa ki Taranaki and Pākehā) was the 2023 NZ Booklovers Awards winner for Best Junior Fiction Book. Her previous books include the award-winning Amorangi and Millie's Trip through Time and The 52 Week Project. Lauren has a Master of Arts in Taranaki Māori History and lives in Wellington with her family. Follow Lauren online. Read an extract of The Space Between and view the book club reading notes here.

Reviewer: Andrea Molloy



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