on Feb. 11, 2011 :
Three cheers for e publishing. Pat Baskett’s “Beneath a Black Sun” has recently appeared, having inexplicably failed to find a conventional publisher. Or perhaps not so inexplicably – times are tough in the publishing world and most of the smaller houses ready to support New Zealand authors have disappeared.
The novel is set during World War 11 and the years immediately following. The Hislops, a Taranaki farming family, send two sons to the Pacific war, fighting the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. Both survive but one, Tom, returns psychologically damaged. Pat Baskett vividly describes the heat and confusion of the struggle in the Solomons, its impact not just on the American and New Zealand soldiers, but also on the Islanders who must choose between both invaders’ brutal attempts to co-opt them.
But this is no ‘Men Alone’ yarn. Pat Baskett deals movingly with the women caught up in the struggle – Harriet, the hardworking farmer’s wife and mother, Annie her troubled teenage daughter, Ellen, the Islander taken as mistress by the sinister Mackilvaine. The war is like a poison that spreads through island life and ultimately works its toxic effects on the whole Taranaki family.
This grim vision is both heightened and relieved by sensuous writing that summons up the sights and sounds (and the smells) of rural Taranaki and the tropical islands. The author celebrates the splendour of the natural world even as she laments the damage inflicted by war. She also celebrates human kindness and fortitude.
Pat Baskett skilfully weaves together the complicated strands of her plot and drives the story towards its unexpected climax. Almost incidentally there is a nostalgia-inducing account of farming life in the 1940s and 50s. The experience of teenage Annie will induce rueful memories rather than nostalgia in those of us who reached puberty in those pre-pill years of sexual ignorance and inhibition.
I read this book on my husband’s Kindle, a satisfactory first time experience. But please, will some venturesome publishing house put this book between covers so that it can be seen on the shelves of libraries and bookshops and reach out to the public it deserves. No disrespect to e publishing intended. We need both avenues.
(reviewed 28 days after purchase)