Thursday, 2 April 2015

Landscape with Solitary Figure by Shonagh Koea

Shonagh Koea is one of my favourite New Zealand authors. After a hiatus in her novel writing, I was delighted when she produced Landscape with Solitary Figure last year. Rather than mine any new ground, she has written a further novel featuring a solitary woman in middle age who, like many of her previous characters, is haunted by events in her past.

Ellis Leigh lives quietly in her seaside cottage, gardening and selling off the odd antique, when a letter arrives from a man who years ago played a terrible trick on her. This story is revealed slowly through the book and takes you back ten years to Ellis’s life in a different town, the build-up to Martin Dodd’s terrible act of bullying, and Ellis’s escape.

It is a novel on a small scale, full of rich and quirky detail – food, gardens, clothes and, of course, antiques, and the impression you have of Ellis's life is the kind of shabby gentility of reduced circumstances. Her sensitivity and shyness is seen as snobbishness which attracts a meanness among those from her circle of acquaintances.

This gives Koea a canvas on which to create some wonderful scenes, laced with her trademark dark humour. What I particularly like about her books is the atmosphere she creates, the subtle nuances and the prose where every sentence is written with care. It all adds up to a unique reading experience and books that can happily be enjoyed again and again.

Posted by JAM

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