Thursday, 27 December 2012

In The Lake Of The Woods, By Jim O'Brien

There is a small second-hand bookshop on Scott Street in Blenheim. I visit it more than any other place in town. They have two, sometimes three wheelbarrows outside the front doors that I am unable to pass by without at least a quick check - they're full of cheap books.

On Saturday I picked up a copy of Tim O'Brien's In The Lake Of The Woods. I seldom read the back cover of fiction books before reading them, prefering to choose a book based on the author or merely judge the book by its cover or name - I don't want to know any details about the story I'm about to read. I had a quick glance at the back of this one, though, and "... in a remote lakeside cabin deep in the Minnesota forests," combined with a brief look inside and getting a good feel from the book was enough to convince me $2.50 was a small price to pay to have this book.

The front cover stated 'BOOK OF THE YEAR' TIME MAGAZINE, so I'm hardly the first to discover it. Apparently they selected it as the Best Work Of Fiction in 1994.

The brief look inside before buying had revealed, amongst the 'normal' prose, a section (there are actually a few) titled 'Evidence', that had small quotes and excerpts with footnotes. It had a feeling of a non-fiction book, and I was keen to read it, as lately I have been pondering the idea of helping with the suspension of disbelief that makes all fiction work by presenting the fiction in as 'real' a format as possible.

The style worked well. The prose is simple and reminiscent of Hemingway a lot of the time. The following is from the first chapter, and feels very much like Hemingway dialogue to me:


Later, Kathy pushed back the blankets and moved off toward the railing at the far end of the porch. She seemed to vanish into the heavy dark, the fog curling around her, and when she spoke, her voice came from somewhere far away, as if lifted from her body, unattached and not quite authentic.

"I'm not crying," she said.

"Of course you're not."

"Its just a rotten time, that's all. This stupid thing we have to get through."

"Stupid," he said.

"I didn't mean -"

"No, you're right. Damned stupid."

Things went silent. Just the waves and woods, a delicate in-and-out breathing. The night seemed to wrap itself around them.

"John, listen, I can't always come up with the right words. All I meant was - you know - I meant there's this wonderful man I love and I want him to be happy and thats all I care about. Not elections."

"Fine, then."

"And not newspapers."

"Fine," he said.

Kathy made a sound in the dark, which wasn't crying. "You do love me?"

"More than anything."

"Lots, I mean?"

"Lots," he said. "A whole busful. Come here now."

Kathy crossed the porch, knelt down beside him, pressed the palm of her hand against his forehead. There was the steady hum of lake and woods. In the days afterward, when she was gone, he would remember this with perfect clarity, as if it were still happening. He would remember a breathing sound inside the fog. He would remember the feel of her hand against his forehead, its warmth, how purely alive it was.

"Happy," she said. "Nothing else."


Some parts later reminded me of Hemingway's posthumously published Islands In The Stream, although I would have prefered more passages like this, set amongst the wilderness:


She was in a wide, gently curving channel flanked by four little islands, and for a few seconds she idled there, not sure about direction. She opened the red gas can, refueled, then turned the boat in a slow semicircle and took aim at a stand of pines a mile or so back down the channel. The breeze had picked up now. Not quite a wind, but the waves stood higher on the lake, and the air was taking sharp bites at her neck and shoulders. There was no sound except for the rusty old Evinrude.

Kathy buttoned up her sweater. No problem, she thought. Connect the dots.

And then for well ever an hour she held a line toward the southeast. lt was thick, gorgeous country, everything painted in blues and greens, and the engine gave off a steady burbling noise that reassured her. A good story for dinner. Danger and high adventure. It might give John a few things to think about. Like the priorities in his life, and where his marriage ranked, and how he was in jeopardy of losing something more than an election. You could get lost in all sorts of ways - ways he'd never considered - and she’d tell him that.

Humming to herself, Kathy adjusted the tiller and began planning a dinner menu, two big steaks and salad and cold beer, imagining how she’d describe everything that was happening out here. Get some sympathy for herself. Get his attention for a change.

The idea gave her comfort. She could almost picture a happy ending.

After twenty minutes the channel forked around a large rocky island, narrowing for a mile, then breaking off into three smaller channels that curled away into the trees. The place struck her as both familiar and foreign. On whim, she took the center channel and followed it through a funnel of pine and brush for what seemed far too long. Occasionally the channel widened out, opening into pretty little bays and then closing up tight again. Like a river, she thought, except it didn’t flow. The water beneath her had the feel of something static and purposeless, like her marriage, with no reality beyond its own vague alliance with everything else.

Ahead, the channel widened out into a stretch of open water, deep blue and icy looking. She squinted up at the sun to calculate the remaining daylight. Maybe five hours until dark. Angle Inlet had to he somewhere off to the south, probably a shade to the west.

She nodded to herself and said, "All right, fine," and fixed the boat on a southerly course, or what she took to be south, now and then checking her direction against the sun. The day was bright and windy, a string of filmy white clouds scudding eastward. She eased back on the throttle and for more than two hours moved through a chain of silvery bays and lakes that unfolded without stop to the horizon. There were no cabins, no other boats. Along the shoreline, thick growths of cattails bent sideways in the wind, and there were occaisonal flights of ducks and loons, but mostly it was a dull succession of woods and water. After a time she felt a detached laziness come over her, a sitting-down sensation. At one point she found herself singing old nursery songs; later on she laughed at the memory of one of Harmon's filthy jokes - a chipmunk, a deaf rhinoceros. A spasm of guilt went through her. Not that she'd ever loved the man, not even close, but there was still the shame of what had happened back then. She pictured his bare white chest, the fingers so thick and stubby for someone who made a living at dentistry. Hard to believe she'd felt things for him.

Enough, she thought. Leave it alone.


It's not all slow dialogue and nice scenery, though - there are also quite a lot of gruesome war scenes.

A well-written book that starts off with some mystery, adds a bit more as it goes a long, and, quite frankly, ends mysteriously.

View the book on or

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Archive: Over one hundred years (Part 5, final part)

From Hunting and Fishing in Marlborough – A history of the Marlborough Acclimatisation Society and a guide for present day sportsmen; pages 15, 16. Originally published 1980. Scans of the pages are at the bottom of this article. This article shows the text from the original that relates to fishing, with some editing to help with flow.

< Read Part 1
< Read Part 2
< Read Part 3
< Read Part 4

Over one hundred years (Part 5, final part)

Good trout were still being taken and in 1953 a 12.25 pound trout from the Wairau River, caught by Ron Nelson, won the trophy.

Liberations of trout continued with emphasis on rainbow trout from the Internal Affairs hatcheries. The rainbow trout were liberated in the Wakamarina, Taylor, and Spring Creek.

After stormy sessions of votes of no confidence in 1952, the Council settled back into its domestic duties by 1955. Nevertheless, the Council was vigilant with its ranging, opposition to pollution, and active with management such as using vibert boxes for planting trout ova in streams.

Marlborough’s rivers continued to provide some good trophy fish. In 1961 the fishing trophy was won by Doug Herd with a l4.5 pound trout.

In 1965 the Society instituted winter trout fishing on an experimental basis, with the Wairau River being opened from the mouth to the Wash Bridge.

Recognition of the quality of the trout fishing in the Upper Wairau River took the form of a four fish bag limit. The vexed question of introducing large mouth bass to New Zealand was opposed by the Council who made representations to the Internal Affairs Department.

Nationally, several matters began to occupy the Society’s thoughts. The Tongariro Power scheme was opposed and a fish farming conference was to be a prelude to the strong opposition of anglers to trout farming. Rainbow trout liberations were made in the Pelorus system. The Hunn Commission of Enquiry on wildlife management was being discussed, and Acclimatisation Societies were once again fighting for survival under the threat of State Control, which had been successfully resisted on many previous occasions.

The Taylor Dam (Blenheim Borough water supply) was now in existence and fish salvaged from the Taylor River during summer drought were liberated in the lake.

The issue of commercial pond rearing of trout appeared again and the Marlborough Society Council bluntly stated "this Society has always been opposed to the commercialising of fishing and shooting".

In 1969 a meeting in the Bohally Intermediate School hall was attended by over 70 licence holders. The subject was Encroachment by Commercialisation Into Outdoor Sports. Guest speakers were Mr J. B. Henderson, of the Wellington Society and Mr M. A. J. Adam, of the Hawkes Bay Society.

In 1969 more rainbow trout fingerlings were procured and liberated in the Wairau, Kaituna and Pelorus Rivers. The Vernon Lagoons were being threatened by proposed salt work extensions. The Save Manapouri Campaign came to Blenheim and the Council supported the meeting and   to the raising of the Lake.

Proposals for salt works on the Vernon Lagoons began to cause consternation among sportsman and bird lovers, and considerable research work resulted in the Lagoons being rated as an invaluable and priceless wildlife and fishery area, both as habitat for adults and a nursery for breeding.

Fishery management faced a problem with a proposal for a hydro-electricity station on a Marlborough River. The eventual choice was the Branch River.

Research revealed a number of hitherto unsuspected trout, often of large size, abundant fingerlings from natural spawning, and a successful plea was made for full consideration of public fisheries in the design of the scheme. The result was a fish pass incorporated and a minimum guaranteed flow.

By 1979, three Wildlife Management areas had been created. They were Lake Rotorua (Kaikoura), Para Swamp and 5 hectares of swampland at Top Valley, Wairau Valley. Representations were made for the Vernon Lagoons, in part, to become a Wildlife Management Reserve also.

The formation of a Sportsmen’s Rod and Gun Club in Blenheim resulted in increased interest in the Society by licence holders.

As the Acclimatisation Society entered the 1980s, rod and gun sport was in a healthy state. Rivers were yielding good trout and ducks, swans and quail were abundant.

Over one hundred years of fish and game management by the Acclimatisation Society had resulted in firstly fish and game populations being established by acclimatisation and then cared for with management.

Page 15 of Hunting and Fishing in Marlborough – A history of the Marlborough Acclimatisation Society and a guide for present day sportsmen.
Page 16 of Hunting and Fishing in Marlborough – A history of the Marlborough Acclimatisation Society and a guide for present day sportsmen.