Like Riding a Bike

I’ve been playing a lot of guitar lately.

Now, that shouldn’t be too much of a revelation. After all, I’ve been a guitarist for more than half my life now; a period in which my instrument has taken me gigging across the country, into studios and on stage with artists of near every kind imaginable—hell, we’ve even played Glastonbury together.

But in recent years, my six-string and I have become somewhat estranged. If you’ve ever visited this blog before, you probably won’t be too surprised to hear just how neatly that decline in my guitar playing correlates to the increase in my struggles with depression and anxiety over the years, and nor should you.

It’s pretty well-established that one of the most visible symptoms of depression is a lack of motivation (or avolition, if you prefer the formal term), which can impact sufferers in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as not having the energy to cook dinner or make the bed; at other times it can be a cause for immediate concern, its effects being so drastic as to make you feel you can’t even move (otherwise known as psychomotor retardation). Make no mistake, this is no synonym for mere idleness: that is an active choice not to do something, but a full episode of depressive avolition is more like finding all of your limbs suddenly deaf to your brain’s instructions.

Indeed, one of the key differences between the two is that whilst general laziness usually centres around a desire to avoid something tedious or unpleasant, depression (being ever the colossal dick) will more often than not target the things you actually enjoy doing.

And so it was for me and my guitar. Pre-breakdown, music was always one of my go-to escapes whenever I was feeling down or unwell; but when the Big D came along I just lost all enthusiasm for it, and even when I could bring myself to pick up an instrument I found all of sudden that playing them gave me none of the pleasure it used to.

And as the days between practices grew into weeks and months, in came the Big D’s cretinous companions—anxiety, self-doubt, inward negativity. Each time I tried to reconnect with music, my illness would be there to remind me what a deficient guitarist I was: “I don’t know how,” it would whisper in the back of my mind, “but you’ve got even worse since last time.” Before long, just the sight of my once-cherished Epiphone Dot was enough to make me feel like a fraud; what used to be a proud reminder of my achievements as a musician now just made me think of all the other, better guitarists who I believed deserved those opportunities more than me. I soon stopped performing live, then stopped writing and recording too, and before I knew it I had all but walked away from music for good.

Ironically, it’s exactly those feelings that have brought me back to my guitar now. Over the last few years I’ve made some huge strides in reasserting control over the Big D, but in all that time I’ve somehow never come to terms with my lost love of music. I guess if I’m being honest, spending so much time away had left me a little afraid of my guitar: if I didn’t think I was any good before, how bad would I be with four years of rust on my muscle memory?

But the difference between then and now is that, having finally seen the Big D for what it is, I know that that fear was just another one of its lies: I might not be the greatest guitarist in the world, but I’m certainly not as bad as I’d let my illness convince me all those years ago. And like any of the Big D’s previous falsehoods, once confronted it unravelled like the sham it really was—if you’ll forgive a little simile it was like finally managing to open a window in a stuffy room, but instead of a breeze coming in it was Meters riffs and Nile Rodgers’ chords, things I’d learnt years before and apparently never forgotten. Everything I thought I couldn’t do is coming back to me at last, and each spare moment I spend with my Epiphone feels like a mini triumph in itself, complete with a shot of “good on ya” dopamine to keep me coming back—it’s no wonder I haven’t been able to put the thing down for over a month now.

And sometimes, that’s what “getting better” is all about. It’s not always known or understood, but the road to overcoming a mental illness often lies in those little victories, those small pieces of land once lost and now recovered that make the end goal that much closer. It’s not always a case of taking big steps forward—sometimes it’s enough just to remember you can still play the guitar.

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April in Books: The Lieutenant; The Sellout; The Silk Roads

After spending March in the company of some edgy short stories and classic dystopia, I was really in need of some lighter reading this month. Though in hindsight, I’m not sure whether a story of colonial brutalism, a commentary on race in modern America and a comprehensive history of the entire civilised world could really be considered “light”…


The Lieutenant, Kate GrenvilleWhen I was searching for an Australian author as part of my Booktrotting project, one of the names that so frequently came up was Kate Grenville—in fact, so frequently recommended was she that even though I plumped for Tim Winton in the end, I just couldn’t resist buying one of her novels as well to read on the side.

The Lieutenant may not be as familiar as Grenville’s Man Booker-shortlisted The Secret River, but it is cut from similar historical cloth, travelling back to Australia’s earliest days as a British penal colony. Based on actual events, it’s the story of Daniel Rooke, a British naval lieutenant among the First Fleet sent to establish the New South Wales settlement, and of his and his fellow Europeans’ tense relations with their new aboriginal neighbours.

I can’t say I was particularly swept up by The Lieutenant, but reading it did make me want to go out and find Grenville’s other historical novels. I really enjoyed the subtle way she tackles Britain’s dark colonial legacy, using an almost comic juxtaposition of the British settlers’ military pomp with some superb descriptions of Australia’s wild, natural backdrop, to really drive home just how intrusively out-of-place the colonialists were—if that’s any sign of things to come, I look forward to The Secret River and its sequel, Sarah Thornhill.


The Sellout, Paul BeattyWhen the crime-ridden L.A. suburb of Dickens is removed from the map to save California from embarrassment, one resident takes it upon himself to restore the pride of Dickens’ exclusively black-and-Latino population—his method of choice being to reinstate Jim Crow-era segregation, in the hopes that it unites the community as “apartheid united black South Africa”.

It feels like a pretty weak statement to call this an astonishing novel; after all, winning the 2016 Man Booker Prize should be proof enough that Paul Beatty’s work is something special. But even amongst Man Booker winners, The Sellout is something else. It’s one of those novels that by luck or design so perfectly fits the zeitgeist into which it emerges—taking aim at both so-called post-racial America and the very idea that such an America could even exist, Beatty conducts a satirical masterclass that’s so cut-to-the-bone funny it makes you wish it wasn’t. “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man,” the opening line reads, “but I’ve never stolen anything.”

Admittedly, its plot isn’t the most compelling, and runs at times into baffling farce; but in the end, the events of The Sellout are hardly as important as what Beatty uses them to illustrate. If this doesn’t enter the roll-call of Great American Novels in the coming years, I will eat my copy in protest.


The Silk Roads, Peter FrankopanPerhaps its the years spent under Hermione Granger’s influence, but whenever I’m in need of a detoxing read, my go-to is almost always a large heft of non-fiction.

Generally speaking, any history book is good enough for me, but The Silk Roads has one hell of a unique selling point. Its scope is enormous—say, every major global event from the rise of Rome to the last days of the Obama administration—and rather than just repeating your old school history lessons, Frankopan swings away from the usual Euro-American perspective and refocuses on the lands of the historic Silk Roads, the trade routes through Asia and the Middle East that were once the centre of the world.

The result is a book as ambitious as it is rewarding, one that presents the historical events we think we know so well from fascinatingly different angles. If there is any one criticism I have of The Silk Roads, it’s that towards the end Frankopan’s lens was pulling noticeably back towards the West; but I think given the intention and the size of the undertaking, that’s easily forgiven.

Solvitur Ambulando: Walking with my Mental Health

Solvitur ambulando: an appeal to practical experience for a solution, Latin, literally “(the problem) is solved by walking”.

Huntspill River

I feel very fortunate to have grown up where I did. Granted, when I was actually doing that growing up I didn’t think much of my stretch of the Somerset coast, what with its murky seawaters, its treacherous sinking mud, its boggy, flooded fields. But now that I’m a little older and (I like to think) a little wiser, I’ve really come to appreciate how privileged I am to have been shaped by what truly is such a beautiful and formidable landscape.

I’ve been exploring that landscape a lot lately. I’ve always been a firm devotee of rambling—when it comes to the great outdoors, I believe that following your nose and getting completely lost is all part of the fun. And so when the springtime brings with it clear skies and warm weather, I can usually be found miles from home, perched on a hillside or following a riverbank deep inland.

River Brue

Now, one of the things I so love about embarking on a good ramble—besides the opportunity for some bitchin’ Facebook cover photos, of course—is the benefits it yields for my mental health.

It’s advice that’s given out so often it’s almost become a self-care cliché, that a little exercise and fresh air can go a long way when it comes to issues like depression and anxiety.

But as generic as it sounds, there is actually a lot of truth to it. Admittedly, I’m not too clued up on the exact reasons why—partly because research on the subject still appears to be relatively scant, and partly because I payed too little attention in school science classes to start understanding biology now. But according to organisations like Mind and the NHS, even the simplest act of exercise is enough to give you a quick shot of endorphins, those feel-good brain chemicals whose name I can only imagine was chosen to conjure images of happy, playful mind-dolphins.

Or, if like me you still need the help of Pixar’s Inside Out to understand the complexities of the human brain, the simpler explanation is that being active, much like Shalamar, can make you feel good. And although walking might not involve Lycra or ball skills, it still counts as exercise, and is still enough to get those endorphins flowing.

Glastonbury Tor

For me, however, the role walking has played in my recovery over the years goes beyond just getting a quick self-esteem boost from a little physical activity.

As a writer, I’ve always found walking to be highly conducive to problem-solving: whenever I feel writer’s block setting in, I always go outside and work through it on my feet. It’s as if by undertaking the physical act of getting from here to there I’m able to trick my brain into making a progression of its own from problem through to solution. In fact, I’m actually writing this very sentence on the move—to borrow the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

In time, I came to apply this practice to my mental wellbeing too. If you’ve not suffered from a mental illness before, you might not be aware that part of what makes them so potent is the state of reeling confusion that floods in their wake, as the initial Blitzkrieg assault leaves you with no idea of what the hell is happening to you or where the hell it came from. All of a sudden your emotional spectrum is thrown off balance, your nerves are stretched tight, the earth itself might have moved beneath your feet for all you know—all you can say for certain is that something, somewhere, has gone wrong.

Jennycliff

It was whilst in this state of blindness that walking became invaluable to me. Where some sufferers use exercise as a distraction or to rebuild confidence, I used it to piece together the puzzle my life had become. It was a form of meditation, I suppose, or self-counselling. Just as I did with writer’s block, I would leave the house with a single, simple question in mind, and allow the cadence of my feet and my surroundings to coax some sense out of the uncertainty; the only difference was, instead of exploring some sticky passage or narrative hitch, I’d ask myself “Why do I struggle talking to people now?”, or “Why do I keep having panic attacks in the middle of Tesco?”

Although confronting my newfound vulnerabilities in that way was terrifying at first, by talking them for a walk (so to speak) I was able to explore them in a calm, methodical way, following those daunting questions through to clarity the same way I’d follow my feet to a destination. It enabled me to make sense of what I was going through in a way that counsellors’ advice and medical definitions had never come close to before, and ultimately led me to regaining that feeling of self-control I had lost when my illness began—in other words, walking through my problems allowed me to go from just knowing how to fight fires when they arose, to understanding why they started in the first place and thus how to prevent them in the future.

And so whilst it would be beyond a stretch to say that my beef with the Big D has been completely solved by walking, I certainly feel justified in saying that a large part of my journey back to stability is owed to the introspective power of a good long walk. Solvitur ambulando? Perhaps not yet—but it definitely is helping.

Plymouth Hoe

Disclaimer: although walking, and indeed any exercise, is great for taking a little extra care of your mental wellbeing, that doesn’t necessarily make it a treatment for mental illness by itself. Mental health issues are complex, with as many solutions as there are problems, and exercise is just one of many potential ways of tackling them—for more on that, read this post on Mind.org.

Booktrotting Log: Oceania

Another continent, another stage of my Booktrotting journey completed. Compared with the previous leg in Latin America, this literary trip across the island nations of Oceania has felt all too brief, having only three stops along the way—and yet those stops could hardly have been more diverse, beginning in self-imposed exile on Kiribati, moving through to New Zealand’s 19th century gold rush, and ending with a twisted coming-of-age story on the Australian coast.

Carte de L’Océanie, J.G. Barbie du Bocage, 1852

I always knew I would struggle to find a wide spread of literature from this part of the world, and so all things considered I’m glad I managed to read what I did. But of course, it’s not all about quantity: what’s more important is how well the few books I did choose fit with my Booktrotting goal of filling in some of those blank edges on my world map.

I mentioned before how J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals was an especially good find in this regard, given how comprehensive his account was of Kiribati’s history, geography and social minutiae, and how Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries likewise introduced me to an entire period of New Zealand’s past about which I previously knew nothing.

Even Tim Winton’s Breath, which I didn’t much enjoy as a novel, was immense fun to explore as a window onto Australian adolescence and its relationship with masculinity.

Maris Pacifici, Abraham Ortelius, 1589

Fortunately, even with a smaller set of books to work from, it was still easy to notice several common themes emerging as I read my way across Oceania, just as it was in Latin America.

One of the first themes I noticed (largely because of its striking contrast to the violence encountered from Jamaica through to Argentina) was openness. Whether it was Troost in Kiribati, Walter Moody in New Zealand or Pikelet’s Kent-born family in Australia, the narrators of each of these novels were by strange coincidence connected by their origins overseas, and by the way that seemingly didn’t matter beyond providing a little backstory. Perhaps I’m just looking at this with a little too much zeitgeist, but I couldn’t help wondering that if these books were written by British authors, how many pages would be dedicated to the simple fact that the characters came from Somewhere Else?

It’s interesting to consider the role Oceania’s geography might play in this. In the British Isles, spurning the company of strangers is something of a luxury, packed in as tight as we are to our neighbours both domestic and across the Channel.

But in the countries of Oceania—especially in the vast, open spaces of Australia—that same luxury doesn’t really exist. I’d always heard friends and family in Australia and New Zealand say that it’s a much friendlier world down in the South Pacific, but I’d never thought until now how that might stem from a sense of international loneliness, cut off from the rest of the world as these countries are by the bounds of the Indian and Pacific Oceans—alone, if you will, at what once really was the edge of the world.

Australasia, John Pinkerton, 1818

From Australia my Booktrotting journey now heads across the South China Sea to continue on through Asia, working from Malaysia in the east around to Turkey in the west. But although I’m moving on from Oceania, I am determined to discover more authors and books from this region, starting with Australia’s Kate Grenville and Miles Franklin, as well as Eleanor Catton’s much-lauded first novel The Rehearsal.

March in Books: 1984; Everything Ravaged; When the Women Come Out to Dance

I didn’t get an awful lot read in February, what with working through Eleanor Catton’s mammoth The Luminaries for my Booktrotting project. But this month I’ve been back on it—and apparently jumping back in at the very deep end, with my reading list taking a sharp right turn into some very bleak waters. So bleak, in fact, that I had to take these books out into the spring sunshine to make up for it…

1984, George OrwellYes, I know, who isn’t reading George Orwell at the moment? But 1984 has been loitering on my bookcase for a long, long time now, and I figured jumping on the social commentary bandwagon was as good a way as any of finally ticking this off the “must-read” list.

Although now that I’ve finally got round to it, I must admit I found 1984 to be a little…dry. As a concept and a socio-political essay the ideas it conveys are really something else, but as a novel I found its many discourses too distracting and its plot too pedestrian to get into. Perhaps one day I’ll return to 1984 and discover what it is I’ve missed this first time around—but for now, I think I’ll hand my copy on to someone who’ll enjoy it more.


Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower

Continuing on with the air of desolate gloom established by 1984, this debut collection of short stories by Wells Tower read about as lightly as its title suggests. It’s a heavy brew of divorce, poverty, child abuse and more, acted out by a cast of invariably wretched characters and to a soundtrack of bitter fatalism—looking back, Everything Ravaged seems to be a pretty apt description for how I felt come the end.

But it’s also an exceptionally well-crafted set of stories. Whilst the raw subject matter might not be “enjoyable” in the typical sense of the word, the way in which Tower presents it is certainly easy to admire—particularly his hallmark oily black humour, which lingers at the end of each story like the afterburn of vomiting up bad whisky. If you like your literature grim and sardonic (like Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, for example) you could do worse than checking out Wells Tower.


When the Women Come Out to Dance, Elmore Leonard

On the face of it, this set of two novellas and seven short stories by the venerable Elmore Leonard doesn’t quite fit tonally in a lineup with 1984 and Everything Ravaged. Where Wells Tower dived into his seedy and debased world right from the start, Leonard begins softly, with human interest stories of infirmity and lost glory days.

But from that foundation, Leonard builds When the Women into an arguably much more penetrating portrait of modern America than Tower is able to. It feels eerily natural when the restless malcontent of the opening stories slides into the tales of violence and racial tension that fill the second half. Read in 2017, that transition becomes a striking image of the path down which American disaffection is so easily led—made all the more poignant by Leonard’s tone, which handles the worst of his characters not with grit or twisted humour, but with a powerless frustration, a resignation that things are what they are and will continue to be. Sure, it might be easy these days to reach for the Orwells, Atwoods and Huxleys, but don’t overlook Elmore Leonard if you want your reading with a side of social relevance.

Booktrotting in Australia: Breath

After departing 19th century New Zealand, my Booktrotting tour comes to the final stop on its Oceania leg, Australia—more specifically, the southwest coast of Tim Winton’s Breath.

Rising sharply from the seabed the shoal at Old Smoky was like a sunken building, windows open, teeming with blue morwongs, harlequins and boarfish. In the water column above, schools of buffalo bream churned restless circles; in the mouths of caves were lobsters the size of cattle dogs.


In a small mill town on the Australian west coast, eleven-year-old Bruce Pike grows up exhausted by the stillness of his surroundings. Together with town wild boy Loonie, he is drawn out to the booming ocean on his doorstep, and falls under the spell of the power of the waves and the mythical knot of men who surf them. Soon the boys have boards of their own—and spurred on by their own young courage and the awe of their peers, Pikelet and Loonie enter into an intoxicating world of exhilaration, immortality and fear.

I changed my mind a lot when looking for an Australian Booktrotting read; pretty much everywhere I looked turned up something that caught my eye, from The Secret River and The Narrow Road to the Deep North to anything by Miles Franklin.

But when I found Tim Winton’s “love letter to the sea” Breath, I settled on it straight away. Granted, my own stretch of the Somerset coast is a far cry from the bluffs and bomboras of Western Australia, but nevertheless I, like young Pikelet, have grown up beside and in reverence of the ocean, and I always love authors who can put that feeling into better words than I’ve ever managed. Add in Pike’s small town upbringing and love of literature, and I thought he would be a character that was achingly familiar, despite our being separated by some 9,000 miles.

Surfers at Paradise Beach, Queensland, P.J. Robertson / CC-BY-SA-2.0
And yet, in spite of the many similarities, I struggled to find much relation with Pike’s story. Obviously surfing is a major part of Breath, and, although Winton keeps the jargon to an understandable minimum, there were plenty of times when I felt too far removed from Pike’s experiences to really engage with them. In particular, Winton’s depictions of the act of surfing itself (“the huge body-rush we got flying down the line with the wind in our ears”) often lost clarity amidst the breathless adrenaline of the moment.

(I did however find an affinity with Pikelet when he confessed he could get no more than a few chapters into Moby Dick—I wondered if he, like I, had fallen for Melville’s opening poetry about the allure of the ocean, only to be turned off by all the whaling gore and narrative tangents that followed.)

Coolum Beach, Queensland, Vanderven / CC-BY-SA-2.5
But to treat Breath as just a surfing novel would be to ignore its greatest attribute. This is, above all, a coming-of-age story, a terrific (and no doubt autobiographical) snapshot of life on the cusp of manhood in 1970s Australia. It’s as much about the ocean as it is about family, masculinity, and finding one’s place in the world.

The surfing is just an extension of that. Thanks to the likes of Home and Away, it’s easy for us in Britain to see surfing as nothing more than an Aussie cliché—but to Loonie and Pikelet, under the tutelage of their hippy mentor Sando, it’s a rite of passage, their personal bridge from innocence to adulthood.

To Pike, his time on the waves is also a means of vital self-expression. During his first encounters with Sando and the other surfers, he is enthralled by the elegance of what they can do, by “how strange it was to see men do something beautiful,” and later notes how his own style of surfing has a grace and finesse that Loonie’s blind bravado lacks. He regards surfing as a kind of physical poetry, something “pointless and beautiful” that exists beyond the ideas of masculinity his traditional, agricultural hometown has to offer. It seems strange to say, given surfing’s modern day image, but for Bruce Pike—and perhaps for Tim Winton too—taking on the ocean was not about the death-defying thrill, but about finding his own interpretation of what it is to be a man.

The Twelve Apostles, Victoria, Richard Mikalsen / CC-BY-SA-3.0
From Australia my Booktrotting tour now leaves Oceania behind and begins its third leg, in Asia—beginning with The Garden of Evening Mists by Malaysia’s Tan Twan Eng.

Booktrotting in New Zealand: The Luminaries

Continuing on from the remote Republic of Kiribati, my South Pacific journey has taken a turn back in time to the New Zealand gold rush of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

He found that he was disappointed: the West Coast Times read like a parish gazette. But what had he expected? That a goldfield would be an exotic phantasm, made of glitter and promise? That the diggers would be notorious and sly—every man a murderer, every man a thief?

In 1866, Scotsman Walter Moody lands in New Zealand, ready to make his fortune on the South Island goldfields. But when he arrives in the middle of the night, he stumbles instead across a secret meeting of twelve local men, and is drawn into their confidence as they discuss a series of unsolved mysteries—the disappearance of a wealthy man, the attempted suicide of a whore, and a fortune found in a dead man’s home.

It was easy for me to empathise with Moody. Not knowing anything about The Luminaries beforehand, I was as adrift as he was upon entering Eleanor Catton’s world and finding what felt like a play I was seeing from the interval onwards. The incidents described in the blurb had already taken place, their consequences were already underway, and around me were a dozen characters whose roles in the story were already established, and who were now obliged to fill Moody and myself in on everything we’d missed.

But if that sounds confusing or tedious, it was far from it—Eleanor Catton is much too masterful a storyteller for that. Hers is a plot built with finesse, its revelations deployed with the exactitude of one who knows just when to illuminate and when to remain cryptic. As the truth unfurls it does so seductively—helped along in no small way by Catton’s charming pastiche of the Victorian theatric, blending sex, murder and buried treasure behind a fog of opium smoke. If you enjoy getting lost in the likes of Anna Karenina or The Count of Monte Cristo, then this is definitely the book for you.

Hokitika River and Hokitika Gorge, Pseudopanax / Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Luckily I loved both of those novels, and so The Luminaries was a perfect fit for my reading taste. But when I was first planning my Booktrotting itinerary, I was reluctant to include it as my New Zealand stop; for one reason or another, I thought my literary world tour would be better served by a setting more contemporary than 1866.

But on the other hand, I was also drawn irresistibly to the backdrop of the West Coast Gold Rush. For all my knowledge of New Zealand’s vineyards and film locations, I know next to nothing about the country’s past, and had no idea it had even had a gold rush—I’d always thought prospectors were exclusive to the American west.

And so with a history lesson in mind, I could hardly have asked any more of The Luminaries. Its plot may be intentionally fanciful to the extreme, but the framework beneath is rife with historical detail: from characters’ names and clothes, to the hierarchy of township society, even to the fine print of shipping insurance, the meticulousness of Catton’s research deserves at least as much praise as the novel itself. She doesn’t so much construct the 19th century West Coast as resurrect it; so tangibly authentic is her depiction of Hokitika’s streets that they feel like a period drama set just waiting for the crew to start filming (which, incidentally, shouldn’t be long now).

Hokitika Township ca 1870s, James Ring / National Library of New Zealand (public domain)

But of all the elements of historical accuracy, the one Catton captures best is the diversity found at what was, in 1866, the effective end of the world.

To call her ensemble cast of characters “diverse” wouldn’t quite do it justice—”motley” would probably come closer. In the first scene alone, Scottish-born Moody rubs shoulders not just with émigrés from his own British Isles, but also from Norway, France, Germany and China; there’s surely no irony lost in the character of Te Rau Tauwhare, the only native Maori presence in The Luminaries‘ 832 pages.

Catton uses this kaleidoscope of different perspectives to paint Hokitika in the abstract, as something exotic, elusive and ever-changing, a scene distorted by the expectations of it. Depending on the character, New Zealand means riches, revenge, adventure, anonymity: to some it is the start of a new life, to others it’s just a different place to die.

The paths that lead these characters across the Pacific sound veritably swashbuckling when read together. But I can’t help wondering if that is in fact the point; if, in borrowing from the playbook of the penny dreadful, Catton is also poking fun at our romantic, “greener grass” view of life in this far corner of the world. It’s certainly not hard to see how the modern attraction of New Zealand has grown in part from its goldfield past, and from the tales of glory and wild wonder that would have reached Britain from the West Coast in 1866.

But that being said, it’s clear Catton isn’t trying to debunk New Zealand’s reputation as an idyllic escape—The Luminaries merely presents a tickled new perspective on where that might have originated. And of course, even if our impression of the country has been inflated somewhat by the lens of time and distance, there’s no denying that there is some truth to New Zealand’s allure. It is, after all, still a truly breathtaking country…

Lake Matheson, Mrogex / CC-BY-SA

Next up is the final stop on my Oceania leg—Australia, for which my guide will be Tim Winton’s story of surfing and boyhood, Breath.