In the Neighbourhood of Fame by Bridget Van Der Zijpp.
Wellington: VUP (2015).
Reviewed by Justin Harrison.
Told from multiple and mutable perspectives, In the Neighbourhood of Fame by Bridget Van Der Zijpp explores a current of events that sets three women and a former rock star on a collision course, of sorts. Set in contemporary New Zealand, fading celebrity Jed Jordan; his wife Lauren; Evie, a former school friend and brief flame of Jed’s, and Haley, a young music enthusiast and fellow dog-walker, form the pivotal cast in this ‘drama’. Their changing perceptions and perspectives are handled mostly very well by way of distinctly different voices and revealing varying levels of awareness. Each character convinces us of their motivations, and individual strengths and weaknesses.
On one level, the plot facets (dealing with fame, relationships and the trouble they can bring) may initially appear like fragments from a loud day-time chat show. But, out of these, Van der Zijpp delicately weaves a refined and intriguing drama of depth and subtlety. In spite of dealing with an almost soap opera-like sequence of events, Van der Zijpp manages to keep a grounded and relatable feeling evolving throughout the story. This, together with in-depth character portrayals, allows the reader to better recognise, analyse and consider protagonists’ reactions to experiences, compounded by circumstance and ‘fame’. A key element, and by extension commentary from the author, is how social media can create wildfire from the mere hint of a spark, typical of the highly reactive and opinionated world we inhabit.
A word about the cover of In the Neighbourhood of Fame. The cover art is well-executed and evocatively recreates a pivotal scene in the narrative. That said, I feel that the scene selected somehow portrays rather less than what this novel involves and deserves. So, readers, don’t judge this book by its cover – delve deep.
Van Der Zijpp has crafted an excellent story. There are, arguably, a few predictable elements. But, overall, the narrative journey throughout Neighbourhood is like a great walk: as the ‘seasons’ and scenery unfold, each new mutable perspective fascinates. Sometimes your heart will race, tense and exhilarated. Sometimes you will simply want to take time and wonder.
Justin Harrison’s work in the Dept of Geography at the University of Canterbury has allowed him the opportunity to travel to the extremes of Antarctica and the central desert of Iran. A member of the Christchurch Writers Guild, Justin has a keen interest in poetry, fantasy and sci-fi genres and is close to completing his debut fantasy novel, The Eye of Torrbey. His fantasy writing is accented with small doses of scientific plausibility and imagery from the varied landscapes he has experienced.