by Jessica Howland Kany
Had I known then about the hunt for buried treasure that has occupied the locals for decades, I may have extended my short visit to Rakiura to try my luck. Darn it!
Maudie would have expressed that much more graphically.
Maudie? Really? She can’t be a Kiwi, because no one here has been called that in the past century. No, she’s from a very different island – straight from Manhattan to Stewart Island. What sort of translocation is that! The Author knows, because she has done it too.
It’s post 9/11 and post Christchurch. Maudie is scarred, literally, and minus a couple of toes. The handicap motivates rather than hinders her determination to run, run, run.
The two locations aren’t the only ones. At times the narration shifts, in time and place, to Monte Casino, Italy 1943-44, with brief visits to Paris.
The story is revealed not in chapters, but in parts divided into sections with subheadings. The majority of the text, narrated by Maudie, is in 1st person present tense, through which she reveals her backstory gradually, also uncovering those of others close to her.
There is more than one mystery to be resolved. One is 75 years old and the locals have long since given up on figuring it out. Maudie arrives pushing a running pram, and carrying her own secrets. The interaction of the two leads to yet another situation that rocks the close island community.
The quirky nature of the narration allows so much information to be inserted into the 400+ pages – details of southern geography with its flora and fauna and cartographic snafus, comments on language differences between USA and NZ, appreciation of poetry in what seems unlikely places, flashes of wartime Italy, and much more. Together it makes for richer reading than most novels. Different fonts mark separate sections, and a graphic of a fishing buoy recurs, inscribed with short phrases – make of them what you will.
Usually, I try to avoid novels of such length, often finding them unnecessarily padded. Not so with A Runner’s Guide to Rakiura, despite the inclusion of the extra information that is always in line with Maudie's character. The richness of the content, the great stable of characters which includes a kākā (“He’s a wild bird with a cat door and a food bowl?”), and of course the hope of finding buried treasure, made reading this one entertaining and a pleasure all the way.
It makes me think I’ll stay longer on Rakiura-Stewart Island next visit.
Author: Jessica Howland Kany
Publisher: Quentin Wilson Publishing