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August 13, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books |
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The Meeting Place

To begin bluntly, reading this book is like swimming through porridge. The history it deals with—race relations in New Zealand to 1840—is fascinating, but has already been well-explored by better historians. As the publisher’s blurb says with quiet irony, O’Malley is engaged in an ‘exciting new re-interpretation’ of the era. The exciting new interpretation follows quite closely the theoretical frameworks developed by Richard White, which explore the ‘middle ground’ of mutual reliance which forces cultures to change one another into new forms. These theories are developed by reference to the Great Lakes region of America, which are at best only partially applicable to New Zealand

It should have been obvious that there were a number of factors in the Great Lakes that simply do not apply to New Zealand. A group of islands dominated by British sea power, with every interaction a couple of week’s sail from Port Jackson, is very different from a remote frontier between rival empires. A missionary in those forests was cut off from everything and everyone; in Northland, the brig Alligator was just a couple of weeks away, and the coast was busy with whaling and trading ships.

The prose is syntactically warped and comma- strewn; the quotes appear in other books. It’s just soul-destroying sub-clauses, one after the other, with no art or thought into how they’re placed, for two hundred and eighty four pages. And then there are little typographical errors, like saying Tasman’s diary was from 1842, and meaningless placements of words like ‘subsequent’ and ‘especially’ and phrases like “among the primary objectives” and “for the most part”. Clichés forest the page, and after about ten pages of reading these the air around you seems to turn grey. This is a book that can make missionaries like Yate, with his fifty-plus male lovers, or Kendall, probably the only missionary anywhere to be almost converted by his flock, seem dull.

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