Reviews, News and Commentary

Looking for the ghost of Robin Hyde

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Shining Land, Looking for Robin Hyde” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima

Massey University Press

RRP $45

Publication Date: November 12th

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The cover illustration for ”Shining Land” by Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima’s new book about Robin Hyde is rather puzzling. A group of trees in park doesn’t suggest much about the author, even the subtitle, “Looking for Robin Hyde” which could be some literary version of Where’s Wally? doesn’t help much either.

Its only when you get halfway through the book that one discovers that the view is of the Birch Grove in the grounds of the Queen Mary Hospital at Hamner Springs that it makes any sense. This is a place where the young Robin Hyde was treated after a mental breakdown and the grove could have  been a place where she contemplated her life and possibly began some of her poetry

Robin Hyde had a life full of promise and adventure but  she existed on the margins of society and sanity most of her life. Physically she was hampered by a damaged leg and she was crippled in her relationship with men which resulted in pregnancies and illegitimate children. Her journalistic career was as chaotic as her personal life but she managed to publish numerous books and volumes of poetry in New Zealand and Britain.

In “Shining Land” Morris and Sameshima explore the life of Hyde both through an examination of her work as well as road trips which take the two of them on  journeys to the various places where Hyde lived, worked and rested – Whanganui, Hamner, Wellington, Auckland, Whangaroa, D’Urville Island and Rotorua

Morris details Hyde’s life, drawing together her own assessment of the author along with quotes from the authors works and letters as well as other writers’ assessments of her. Paralleling the text Sameshima provides photographs of  the locations she lived – a view from the window of her flat overlooking the Whanganui River and her room at the old Auckland Mental Hospital (Oakley).

The book is an almost poetic meander through Hyde’s life, filled with digressions (footnotes to the text and photographs offer another level of discovery) and reflections. Many of Sameshima’s photographs have a washed-out colour giving them a look of aged images[JD1]  from the 1930’s. They are all devoid of human figures and the few objects in them heighten a sense of bleakness and loneliness.

The book is also something of  a contemplation on writing and Morris  manages to explore the psyche of pre World War II New Zealand with its ghosts of World war I and the changing lives of New Zealanders, particularly women.

“Shining Land” beautifully marries text, design and photography capturing the life and the impulses of one of our great female authors with clarity and insights.

“Shining Land” is the second in the series of works described as picture books for adults under the general editorship of Llyod Jones. The first of these was High Wire  written by Jones and illustrated by Euan Macleod,


By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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