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The Miserables


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In this introspective first novel from a young New Zealand author, thirtyish Brett Healey's grandfather has died, forcing him to return to Wellington for the funeral. The trip there and the three days that follow serve as a springboard into the narrator's past. Some of the memories are quite droll, such as the tale of the enforced nature walk his father has the family undertake. Others are charming, as when his aunts pool their somewhat disturbing reminiscences of granddad. But many of the memories are dull--at least as written. Indeed, the book is so internal that coming upon a bit of dialog brings enormous relief. In the end, this reader was hard pressed to understand what all these remembrances of an uneventful life were meant to signify. For libraries with a collection of New Zealand literature.-- Brian Kenney, Brooklyn P.L.

This first novel is at sea both literally and figuratively. On a ferry crossing New Zealand's Cook Strait is 30-year-old Brett Healey, a literary editor and world-class nudge who spends half his time fretting about his deep personal isolation, the other half trying to extricate himself from the awkward social situations into which his indecisiveness leads him. Returning from his grandfather's funeral, Healey coolly examines his alienated life. Two on-board events bring him out of his self-obsession: a fellow passenger solicits his help in a sordid scheme, and a young boy nearly dies of hypothermia. The author, who won the Heinemann Reed Fiction Award for a collection of short stories ( The Veteran Perils ), gets distressingly lost in this longer narrative among the many layers of Healey's tedious memories. ``Strange'' is the novel's first word and ``tenderness'' its last; in between, Wilkins does manage to achieve a strange quality of tenderness, but it isn't enough. The flaccid plot and dull protagonist's malaise simply overwhelm some very lovely prose. (Nov.)

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