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Book review – Mackenzie

May 15, 2019 May 2019 No Comments

James McNeish’s novel Mackenzie was published in 1970, however it was republished as a part of the Godwit collection of six celebrated New Zealand novels. 

Set in 1850s Canterbury the novel uses the life of mysterious shepherd Mackenzie and his remarkable dog, of which in fact little is known, as a basis for a much wider story encompassing the people and their lives in the fledgling town of Christchurch. Of the farmers who are trying to start farms on the Canterbury plains and of the squatters claiming land in the high country. Their aims often conflict but they unite in opposing the strictures emitting from Governor Grey in Auckland and in fear of the Northern Māori conflicts spreading south.

In the forward Professor Lawrence Jones wrote ‘ What unifies the novel is that despite the diversity of subjects they all focus on the place where politics and personal morality meet’. Indeed this a combination of a very extremely well told story and history lesson.

Mackenzie is more than an imagined biography for James McNeish examines in detail the daily existence of the raw settlers in a new town and the great back country sheep stations. In it examined are political and spiritual attitudes, social standards, greed and anxieties all against the twin backdrop of a hostile landscape and neglected Māori presence.

This is a satisfyingly long read which is once started hard to put down. I have enjoyed it just as much with this later second reading as I did the first.  

Mike Beckett

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