Drinking ta'e for Eleanor Catton
The Toilet Club is the hangout for some of Nuku'alofa's most innovative young artists, who often doodle and scribble and splash paint until five in the morning, and so it seemed an appropriate place for me to toast Eleanor Catton, the young New Zealand literary innovator who has just won the Man Booker Prize for an eight hundred page novel composed according to rigorous and esoteric formal principles.
Catton's win is good news for every writer, in New Zealand and elsewhere, who has been browbeaten by the sort of philistine reviewers and editors who believe that a linear narrative, an unpretentious vocabulary, and a realistic view of the world are essential for literary success, and who think of readers as simple-minded creatures who will abandon a novel or poem or essay if it strays into thickets of linguistics and intellectual difficulty. Toilers like Bill Direen, who was scolded for not being friendly enough to readers by a particularly philistine reviewer, and Richard Taylor, who once got a letter of rejection from an editor who urged him to 'Write the way everyday people speak', ought to be chuffed at the success of Catton's big and difficult book.
The Toilet Club is located in Havelu, a poor suburb which seems to have become the locus for much of Nuku'alofa's creative energy. A couple of weeks ago I posted about the visit that Richard Von Sturmer and I made to the home-cum-studio of Visesio Siasau, the visionary Tongan artist who was preparing a series of massive and provocative tapa cloths for an exhibition in China. Visesio flew to Beijing on Monday, but before he left he was forced to show his wares to a panel made up of three members of Tonga's cabinet, which is dominated by nobles more interested in feasting and making real estate deals than in avant-garde art. I bought Visesio some drinks to help him recover from that ordeal. Let's be thankful that Eleanor Catton's novel didn't have to pass under the eyes of John Key before it went abroad!
Footnote: I have no idea why the formatting of this blog has changed, so that many headings are suddenly rendered in an ugly shade of blue, and the titles of posts are dwarfed by the dates on which the posts were made, and comments are, for some readers at least, impossible to make. Blogging is hard enough in Tonga without vandalism from blogger.com. I'll sort all these technical problems out when I come back to New Zealand in December, and in the meantime will try to limp on.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]