Maori myths under a spell

by Listener Archive / 04 September, 2010

In the Library of Possible Influences, where books that share elements are shelved together, Tina Makereti's confident collection of 13 short stories would slide in next to Tom Cho's Look Who's Morphing, and a couple of shelves above you'd find Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid. Cho writes the interior life of a version of Baby from Dirty Dancing; Makereti gives Napier's Pania of the Reef statue, who "must have been felt up by half the country", wry wisdom. Where Hughes titivates Ovid, Makereti revivifies Maori myths.

Metamorphosis is one of the collection's binding themes and tricks - these stories read like Maui has cast humorous spells on tales you've heard all your life. An effect of measured exaggeration is a wit that winks at you between words and generates as much page-turning fuel as the plots themselves.

The stories divide into refurbished myths, smuggled-in social commentary and mash-ups of life and lore. And although well-known characters and plots appear, it would be foolish to place bets on what happens next. Clues that decode a small mystery in one story can be found in another - read together, the stories multiply in meaning.

Makereti's alloyed style of writing disturbs default settings of time and space - as in the Maori worldview, the future is behind us and the past in front, yes, but what is that thing on the periphery and where did it come from? Mortals and humans with god-like gifts talk to each other up and down generations, raising political questions about Aotearoa New Zealand now.

In The God-child, we read that the world is "inhabited by a pulse of life fractured into splendid multiplicity", which passes "through everything like a wave". It is from this wave's atoms that Makereti fashions her clever yet effortless stories of second sight.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AOTEAROA, by Tina ­Makereti (Huia, $30).

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