Originally published on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.
I've mentioned previously I much prefer to read non-fiction over fiction – there’s something that sparks interest for me when I know what I'm reading is a true story. Delight came to me when I realised the slightly-smaller than an A5 book I’d been given to review intertwined fact and fiction perfectly. Excellent way to kill two birds with one stone.
Published by Bridget Williams Books as part of the BWB Texts series, Kirsty Gunn’s memoir Thorndon Wellington and Home: My Katherine Mansfield Project stands proudly alongside other great New Zealand authors including Claudia Orange and Maurice Gee.
Thorndon beautifully recounts Gunn’s time in Wellington having been awarded a Randell Fellowship. Gunn comes home to the city she grew up in and swore to never return to, having set up camp in Scotland and London. "A couple of years ago I came 'home' to Wellington. I came at first alone, and then I brought my daughters with me."
Whether you know Wellington well or could care less about the city, Gunn’s account of her time spent as a Fellow here resonates with all who despise the place they grew up in. Her two daughters are able to attend the same school she did, create the same memory of the Zig-Zag stairs, and remember the way horizontal rain is created by wonderful winds.
Alongside her wonderfully written and easy to read account of Wellington, Gunn has intertwined quotes and extracts from Mansfield, as well as from biographies. A selected bibliography is included for any person looking for the place to start their Mansfield readings. Alongside these, Gunn's own stories she wrote while here sit perfectly. As a non-reader of modern fiction, I found these simply delightful to read.
Gunn has produced a simple yet effective book in Thorndon. She tells her own story, which could have been a rather dull subject, in a real and relatable way. I, for one, don't find myself particularly attached to the small town I grew up in, but something resonates with me every time I go back there. Gunn's account draws my thinking back to the words I wrote in that town, and makes me long to visit soon.
"Coming or Going. Leaving or returning. Whether dark or light, north or south, present or past… The words themselves are real. As I have written before, as I continue to write… The words themselves bring us home."