Title: The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Author: Joan Stevens

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1966

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Sylvia Johnston

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Strip Jack Naked

Strip Jack Naked. In Strip Jack Naked, 1957, Wilson returns to the theme of violence which dominates his two war novels. This time it is a study of another "man alone", Jack, who has skipped his ship, knuckledustered his way round the waterfront, beaten up a Maori, and finally in a surge of uncontrollable anger, committed an unpremeditated murder. Then we have the hunt, and the leap off the wharf back into the waters which had brought him here. There is argument about the value of this novel; some hold it to be cheap, violent nonsense, others claim that it is a penetrating short study of obsessive elements in our life.

"In Julien Ware and Strip Jack Naked Mr Wilson did better work than he was given credit for," 20 writes Ian Cross. E. H. McCormick, on the other hand, does not think either book worth mentioning.

Since he crossed the Tasman to Sydney, Guthrie Wilson has not again used the New Zealand setting. Dear Miranda, 1959, is a light comedy of an Australian girl in London and elsewhere. The Incorruptibles, 1960, is a novel about the appointment of a Sydney headmaster, with the limited area for characters and action which has been so fruitful for C. P. Snow's studies of power among men. Clearly, Guthrie Wilson is a man to be watched; he now has a professional technique, and as wide a range of subject matter as James Courage or Dan Davin. It should be interesting to see whether he can go further.

Two lone novels of the fifties have dropped undeservedly from sight, Diarmid Cathie's She's Right, 1953, and John Gillies's Voyagers in Aspic, 1954.

Diarmid Cathie—this is a pseudonym—is an Englishman who spent a term here in the broadcasting service. His book tells the tale of MacGregor, an Adult Education drama tutor in the Marlborough district, and of his degeneration among his colonial cobbers, until wine, women and song lead to murder. MacGregor is unsatisfactory as a character, while the motives for his fall are inadequate. One is meant to shudder at the emptiness of unoccupied days, at nights spent in futile classes among silly people, and to agree that eight weeks of this would bring even a Scotsman low. This seems, on our New Zealand record, highly improbable! What is good, however, is the incidental page 98 material, the rendering of the lingo of pubs and parties, especially of the booze-up which leads to the hero's destruction.

Voyagers in Aspic is a witty story of three New Zealanders making the sea pilgrimage to England. They observe their fellow travellers sardonically in the manner of Evelyn Waugh. Colonial drinking habits, richly ostentatious women, literary aspirants, are all touched on with farcical gusto. Once the trio land in London, however, the derivative nature of John Gillies's satire becomes too plain. Except for the adventures of Mrs Willoughby-Smart, who has taken her daughter Home with the highest social expectations, the rest of the book is not as good as its opening chapters.