Books in brief (4)

by Philip Matthews / 30 July, 2005

1984-ISM: Lately, we've been marking 1985 - the Rainbow Warrior, the first Live Aid - but Landfall 209 (Otago University Press, $29.95) shows that there's still plenty of life left in 1984. Taking a cue from the popular idea that 1984 is the balancing point between 60s New Zealand and 90s New Zealand - two very different worlds - essayist Murray Edmond finds two emblematic, politically charged incidents in that year: the explosion in Trades Hall, Wellington, that killed caretaker Ernie Abbott, and the attack by feminists on playwright Mervyn Thompson (a "crucial moment in our cultural history", Patrick Evans agrees in his essay). But there was more to the 80s than all that, surely: "Look, there's the guy from Ultravox," writes Tim Wilson in his entertaining memoir. Landfall 209 is the last issue from editor Justin Paton, under whom the journal has been both scholarly and contemporary, and always valuable. The next two issues will be guest-edited by Nick Ascroft and Tze Ming Mok.

PRE-FUHRER: To the Hitlers we know about, the one revealed in Ernst Hanfstaengl's The Unknown Hitler: Notes from the Young Nazi Party (Gibson Square, $39.95) is a useful addition. An early champion of the Nazis, Hanfstaengl was the man who really did know the Fuhrer before he was famous - he also managed to be a friend of Roosevelt, for whom he wrote reports on Hitler's personality after fleeing Germany in 1937. The book is a lively mix of amateur psychoanalysis and gossip, with its gauche Hitler close to the "young Adolf" of Beryl Bainbridge: "One thing that became borne in on me very early was the absence of a vital factor in Hitler's existence. He had no normal sex life."

NERLI HERE: Robert Hughes has dismissed Girolamo Pieri Nerli as having a "rather mediocre vision", but then, he says things like that about nearly everyone. Still, art history hasn't been kind to Nerli, an Italian painter who spent nearly two decades in New Zealand and Australia at the end of the 19th century - his name is usually mentioned in passing as a teacher of, or influence on, Frances Hodgkins, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton. In the beautifully produced Nerli: An Italian Painter in the South Pacific (Auckland University Press, $79.99), Michael Dunn is doing some restoration work on Nerli - it's the culmination of Dunn's 35-year-study of the painter's life and work. His verdict? "Nerli was an uneven painter who ranged from the good to the downright bad ... not above churning out potboilers to make money when he was hard up [but] at times the equal of his more famous Australian friends and associates."

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