Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place
edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey.
Wellington: VUP (2016).
Reviewed by Cassandra Fusco.
Embracing nonfiction, short stories, personal histories and pieces of research, the varied essays in this collection cohere around enquiries into embodied experiences of place and existence.
Outlining the book’s rationale, editors Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey comment: ‘Over the past few decades, regions within New Zealand have become … increasingly divergent from one another … making it impossible to present any one place as a microcosm of the wider nation’ (p 11). In order to address this various-ness, contributing essayist Annabel Cooper advocates that we need ‘the kinds of evidence that the social sciences deal in’ and something ‘more particular and personal’ (pp 107-120). Hence, Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand is a series of essays giving voice to ‘the feeling of inhabiting various and sometimes contradictory, experiences of place’ (Horrocks and Lacey p 17), and challenging ‘stereotypes that become self-important yet unsupportable’ (Alice Te Punga Somerville, pp 96-105).
Divided into three parts (“Any place might be extraordinary if only we knew it”, “You take place with you as you go on” and “The meshing of thought and world”), the essayistsi variously conjure, consider, challenge and re-view issues of place and place-thinking. Employing innovative and experimental forms, they open up space for talking about our relationships with locations, local virtual and global, and the power and formative effects of established New Zealand histories and literary circles upon these.
Locations as different as Tapanui, Te Kūiti, Caversham, Christchurch, Raumati, Napier, Brancepeth Station in the Waiarapa, Pukeahu in central Wellington and an Auckland coffee shop apparently serve as stimuli. Here are meditations on Erewhon and elsewhere, Google, Facebook, machine translations, taniwha, PostShop, profit, migration, mobility, the mind and the realms of space, and how lives lived in and around these phenomena connect, click and change, how points of recognition and experiences are articulated – or not.
These essays (with informative Notes on Sources) offer multiple orders of reality. Irrespective of form, each piece considers how the relationship between people and places, and between the local and international, emerges, and persuades that consciousness of this might contribute to our understanding of life in 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand.
Simple and skilful in its design, this book offers challenges. Its enquiries will engage anyone curious about ‘the strangeness of existence’ (Lynn Jenner, after Witkiewicz, p 160).
i Ingrid Horrocks, Cherie Lacey, Ashleigh Young, Sally Blundell, Tony Ballantyne, Lydia Wevers, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Annabel Cooper, Alex Calder, Jack Ross, Harry Ricketts, Lynn Jenner, Tina Makereti, Ian Wedde, Giovanni Tiso, Tim Corballis and Martin Edmond.
Cassandra Fusco is the Reviews Editor for takahē.