Mansfield with Monsters by Katherine Mansfield with Matt and Debbie Cowens review

by David Larsen / 25 August, 2012

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Against all expectations, <em>Mansfield with Monsters</em> proves to be grand fun.
Katherine Mansfield with Matt and Debbie Cowens - Mansfield with MonstersFantasy mash-ups of literary classics tend to work better as anecdotes than they do as reading matter. If you can find someone who’s never heard of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, all you need do to fetch a delighted laugh is tell them the title. The actual book is enjoyable mostly for its illustrations. This is because it was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who delicately refashions Jane Austen’s prose in the manner of a wrecking ball refashioning a Regency-era tea set. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, nonetheless, has surfed the wave of interest generated by its title to a sales figure in excess of a million copies worldwide, which is presumably the explanation for the subsequent glut of really bad mash-ups, which is, in turn, the explanation for my bored sigh as I picked up Matt and Debbie Cowens’s Mansfield with Monsters: The Untold Stories of a New Zealand Icon. Imagine my surprise: this little book is grand fun.

The Cowens tweak Mansfield’s stories the absolute minimum amount required to transform them into HP Lovecraftian horrors. (It’s less than you’d think.) They bring a wicked sense of humour and a keen editorial ear to the project; I ended up reading their versions with the originals open beside me, so I could track down each individual alteration. Because you never know what the fantasy element in a given story will be, you have to treat each metaphor as a potential literal statement. The uncertainty transforms the reading experience delightfully: the girl described as a butterfl y in The Garden Party might actually have wings. She doesn’t, it transpires, but ravenous giant insects feature. Everyone is very matter of fact about them. More from the Cowens, please.

MANSFIELD WITH MONSTERS: THE UNTOLD STORIES OF A NEW ZEALAND ICON, by Katherine Mansfield with Matt and Debbie Cowens (Steam Press, $25).

David Larsen is a writer and Listener film reviewer

Latest

Killer robots: The question of how to control lethal autonomous weapons
93876 2018-07-20 08:23:45Z Tech

Killer robots: The question of how to control leth…

by Peter Griffin

The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Read more
The man who's making sure performing artists are seen in the regions
93813 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Theatre

The man who's making sure performing artists are s…

by Elisabeth Easther

For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.

Read more
The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sustainably
93645 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Economy

The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sus…

by Sharon Stephenson

Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.

Read more
Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restaurant-bar in Ponsonby
93862 2018-07-19 15:05:51Z Auckland Eats

Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restauran…

by Kate Richards

Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.

Read more
Our plastic recycling efforts will go nowhere without the right information
93822 2018-07-19 00:00:00Z Environment

Our plastic recycling efforts will go nowhere with…

by The Listener

If turns out that some plastics marketed as eco-friendly degrade only to a certain point and often outlive their human recyclers.

Read more
NZ International Film Festival: 50 years of bringing world cinema to our shores
93745 2018-07-19 00:00:00Z Movies

NZ International Film Festival: 50 years of bringi…

by David Larsen

The NZ International Film Festival is 50 years old this year – find out how they choose the line-up from long-standing director Bill Gosden.

Read more
Mary Shelley – movie review
93770 2018-07-19 00:00:00Z Movies

Mary Shelley – movie review

by James Robins

A biopic about writer of Frankenstein turns into lacklustre period piece.

Read more
We need to know more about what’s behind NZ's dire youth-suicide rate
93676 2018-07-19 00:00:00Z Psychology

We need to know more about what’s behind NZ's dire…

by Marc Wilson

New Zealand's youth-suicide rates are the highest in the OECD and the burden falls heavily on Māori and Pasifika peoples.

Read more