The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir.
Auckland: Random House New Zealand Vintage (2015).
Reviewed by Justin Harrison.
I never thought I would feel compassion for a feral rat, but Tania Moir’s The Legend of Winstone Blackhat is very effective at making the reader feel things they perhaps never expected. This compelling story progresses along three paths in the life of protagonist Winstone Haskett: past, present and his imaginary western movie adventure. These three paths are deftly interwoven and prove to be deeply engaging. The grittiness of Winstone’s past in particular is enthralling. Like an impending train crash, you are involved; you wish you could reach out or even scream out to help but simply cannot look away. The result is that Winstone’s life is made to feel very grounded and real. One possible reservation – the writing style of Winstone’s imagination is, at times, a little distracting; 11 ‘ands’ in one sentence – even if intended to convey something of the protagonist’s youth and desperation – is too much.
That said, balancing the mundane and shocking events of Winstone’s life, Moir engages and involves her readers skilfully. She has a talent for conveying imagery in creative and unexpected ways. Many of the events take place in central Otago, a rich environ that provides abundant material for her to exercise this talent. Winstone Blackhat, perhaps with a parental advisory note, could be compulsory reading at high schools for the reason that the narrative convincingly shows how cruel people can be to each other and, conversely, how kindness can be extended in unexpected ways.
So the next time you see a stray cat or a feral rat, don’t be too quick to judge since, as Winstone would say, it is not their fault they lead the life they do.
Justin Harrison (Dept of Geography at the University of Canterbury), a member of the Christchurch Writers Guild, 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 work has involved travel to the extremes of Antarctica and the central desert of Iran and his writing is accented with small doses of scientific plausibility and imagery from the varied landscapes he has experienced.
First published takahe 87