Iceland by Dominic Hoey – book review

by Alex Behan / 26 July, 2017

Dominic Hoey. Photo/Paul Taylor

A first novel set in inner-city Auckland features powerfully plausible characters.

The debut novel from Dominic Hoey is a grim portrayal of star-crossed, drug-addled lovers set against the gentrification of central Auckland. Our empathy for the lead characters is tested as we watch them repeatedly make poor choices, and there isn’t much hope to cling to as the narrative surges forward in a series of tragic events.

But if our empathy wavers, our belief in the characters does not: they are familiar to anyone of Hoey’s generation, and the dual-first-person narrative lets us see the world through the eyes of each in turn.

Hamish – with his inability to express himself, his destructive self-sabotaging patterns, his refusal to maximise his own gifts – represents a repressed Kiwi male with limited life options that many of us will recognise.

Zlarta, the hopeful chanteuse in a dead-end job, cannot for the most part see her errors of judgment. She reminds us of that friend who, in spite of all she has going for her, can’t quite make healthy decisions.

The challenges they face also feel very close to home: the inefficiency and dehumanising nature of Winz; the office job where if you pretend to be invisible you almost really are; trying to raise your head above the whirlpool of addiction.

Desperately searching for self-worth while travelling the impossible road they must traverse to have even a modicum of success, most New Zealand artists and musicians end up slipping through the cracks or falling by the wayside. Iceland is their story.

The author’s intimate knowledge of (and obvious attachment to) the geography paints a desolate landscape. It flicks through Karangahape Rd, Grey Lynn and other fast-changing Auckland suburbs reminding us of the social cost of gentrification.

Our characters search for hope and meaning through art while working jobs they don’t care for with people who don’t care for them as the city changes around them.

Hoey has a remarkable ability to turn a phrase and his switches between poetry and prose mostly work well. “When I see this combination of inexperience and ignorance face to face, I can’t help falling in love with a life that never existed, seduced by nostalgia’s fragmented beauty.” Such lines are scattered throughout the book, leaving the reader, like the main characters, in an almost constant state of melancholy.

It’s a compelling read, and perhaps because of my closeness to Hoey in both age and background, I couldn’t put it down, despite not really enjoying myself at all. The characters were too close to people I know, the story arcs too close to things that I – or those close to me – have experienced.

Yet this is an important book by a talented writer with an important voice forging a path for himself. Hopefully Iceland will find its way into the hands of young New Zealanders who will read about a world in which they themselves exist. In their hands, the tragedy of this story may become a cautionary tale of wasted youth and unfulfilled potential. 

ICELAND, by Dominic Hoey (Steele Roberts, $24.99)

Alex Behan is the host of Music 101 on RNZ National.

This article was first published in the July 8, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

In a Time of Monsters: Emma Sky's attempt to shed light on the Middle East
108292 2019-07-24 00:00:00Z Books

In a Time of Monsters: Emma Sky's attempt to shed…

by Peter Calder

A diary of adventures in the volatile Middle East is diverting but hardly illuminating, writes Peter Calder.

Read more
The sum of our fears: The literature of climate change
108842 2019-07-24 00:00:00Z Books

The sum of our fears: The literature of climate ch…

by Jenny Nicholls

The most interesting books on climate change.

Read more
The bad news about tattoo removal
108205 2019-07-24 00:00:00Z Health

The bad news about tattoo removal

by Ruth Nichol

Tattoo regret is rising, but removal of the offending ink isn’t painless – for the person or their pocket.

Read more
Former inmate Paul Wood's insights on improving NZ's criminal-justice system
108325 2019-07-23 00:00:00Z Profiles

Former inmate Paul Wood's insights on improving NZ…

by Clare de Lore

As the Government spends millions reforming the criminal-justice system, Paul Wood says crime would be reduced if we taught our children emotional...

Read more
Camino Skies: An inspiring Kiwi doco about grief and determination
108733 2019-07-23 00:00:00Z Movies

Camino Skies: An inspiring Kiwi doco about grief a…

by Russell Baillie

A New Zealand-made documentary about those who walk the 800km Camino trail is heartbreaking, blistering and terrific.

Read more
Funny As is a hilarious and horrifying look at NZ's comedy history
108591 2019-07-23 00:00:00Z Television

Funny As is a hilarious and horrifying look at NZ'…

by Fiona Rae

Five-part series Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy shows just how far our humour has come.

Read more
Eyes front: My advice for those seeking retinal surgery
108209 2019-07-23 00:00:00Z Health

Eyes front: My advice for those seeking retinal su…

by Mark Broatch

If flashes of light or spooky shadows suddenly appear in your vision, see your optician or doctor without delay.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern supports, does not commit to 'climate emergency' declaration
108769 2019-07-23 00:00:00Z Planet

Jacinda Ardern supports, does not commit to 'clima…

by Jo Moir

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stopped short of committing to a declaration of climate emergency in Parliament.

Read more