Stevan Eldred-Grigg is one of the most controversial novelists and historians in New Zealand.
Born on the back seat of a speeding taxi, he grew up in a tumultuous household in suburban Christchurch before graduating with a doctorate in history from the Australian National University.
Bangs, his latest novel, takes the reader back into the big blowsy family at the centre of Oracles and Miracles and its companion novels Mum and The Shining City. Meridee Bang is a perky kid elbowed by a throng of brothers and sisters inside a tiny house in one of the wrong suburbs of Christchurch. Nothing in her life comes easy. Dad works at a plastics factory. Mum, feckless, fierce and funny, broods in her kitchen or lashes out at the kids. The kids swap jokes and smart talk while crowding one of a row of standardised bungalows. Vinyl. Nylon. Chrome. Acrylic. Meridee hopes that one day she’ll be rich and pretty like the heroines of The Patty Duke Show.
As Meridee dances the frug through the swinging sixties, stalks on stacked heels through the seventies and goes for glam in the early eighties, she uses every weapon she can to find the life she wants.
Are cleverness, pluck and ambition enough to break free from greasy-walled Olivine Street?
Oracles and Miracles, a runaway bestseller, became the first major novel by a living New Zealand writer to be published in China. Shanghai Boy, published in 2006, explores a tortuous love affair between a New Zealander and a Chinese young man in the immense city of Shanghai. ‘Age, no problem! Gender, no problem. Constellation, no problem. Body, sex, race, all no fucking problem. Feeling, you know! Feeling! That is everything.’ Other novels include The Siren Celia, Gardens of Fire, Blue Blood and Kaput!
Stevan Eldred-Grigg is known for his history books, too. The Great Wrong War, published in 2010, probes social life in New Zealand during the murderous years of the First World War. The sincerity and the malice, the stubbornness and the yearnings of warring New Zealanders are central to the story. Quick, vivid, democratic and questioning, The Great Wrong War has polarised readers. ‘We have been put on trial and found wanting,’ says one reviewer. ‘Eldred-Grigg would have us believe that Germany bore virtually no responsibility for the war at all,’ says another. Angry readers have gone so far as to claim that the book is a disloyal attack on the people of New Zealand.
‘Stevan Eldred-Grigg defies classification. He can swoop from the historical to the contemporary, from lyric to polemic, from fiction to faction. He's unsettling as well as absorbing.’ [David Hill, New Zealand Herald]