Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Looking back at Kate De Goldi in the 1990s: Sanctuary; Love, Charlie Mike; Closed, Stranger

Looking back at Kate De Goldi in the 1990s
By Trevor Agnew
The 1990s are a long time ago. I was younger then and, reading Love, Charlie Mike, I was able to laugh at Gran’s argument with the taxi-driver who took her to the newly-built railway station. Gran declares, ‘This is not the station, young man…. Moorhouse Avenue, young man, quick smart about it.’

Now, the huge brick building in Moorhouse Avenue has vanished and I feel as confused and disoriented as Gran.

I remember being fascinated by the realities Kate de Goldie created in my mind. I actually went looking in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens for the Moreton Bay fig tree she describes there in Closed, Stranger. There isn’t one but Kate de Goldi needed it as a mood-setter, so she painted it in. I remember being surprised that the benches in the rose garden weren’t the same colour as in the book. Brown? Green? Who was right?

There is a nasty T intersection joining St Albans Road, with a concrete dome in the middle. One of the characters in Closed, Stranger  – Max perhaps – speeds over it in a car at one critical point in the story. I always thought of that story when I circled that dome. Now it’s gone, replaced by traffic lights. I remember the dome.

Sometimes the things she describes don’t even exist. A home in Closed, Stranger is given a real address and street number. I couldn’t resist having a look, but of course there was just a gap in the street numbering. I remember laughing as I strolled from letter box to letter box. No such number.

Then there’s Sanctuary. I remember a small family aquarium at New Brighton and a large crocodile in a small pond.   If you ever saw that crocodile, you understand everything that happens in Sanctuary. Kate De Goldi saw the crocodile.

Now it is 2018. Another century. Another millennium. These three novels have been reprinted. Are they as good as I remember them? I’m busy at the moment but one day I’m going to read them again.

Meanwhile, here are the entries I wrote for The Source website back in the 1990s. This is what I thought then. It’ll be interesting to see how the stories have aged. The characters are strong, so I think it’ll be like vintage wine.

Sanctuary Kate De Goldi (1996 rep. 2018) Penguin pb $18 ISBN 9780143772002
‘Kate de Goldi’s first novel for teenagers is Sanctuary, a romantic triangle which also mirrors Noah’s Ark in its treatment of an animal rights dispute. A small zoo owned by an elderly couple is about to close, and the fate of a panther becomes an obsession, leading to tragedy.
Catriona Stewart (called ‘cat’, which is symbolically interesting) is in a state of dispute with her erratic mother Stella. She is also attracted to two young men and makes an unwise choice. Personal anguish follows.
This is a fresh and exciting novel, with vivid descriptions of the seaside suburbs of Christchurch. The characters are all convincing and the problems facing Catriona are both plausible and unexpected.’

Love, Charlie Mike Kate de Goldi (1997 rep. 2018) Penguin pb 9780143772026
 ‘Christy loves her cousin Sonny who she met for the first time at their grandfather's funeral. Now he is a peacekeeper in Bosnia and his letters have stopped. Was it like this for Gran when Pops went away to war? Perhaps not, as their marriage failed, but why is Christy's dad so odd since the funeral? Two experiences of love, parting, war and betrayal are separated by two generations but Christy comes to see that her relationship with her cousin and lover Sonny echoes the experiences of her grandparents, Pops and Gran, the latter once a beautiful and imperious woman, but now so bewildered she does not recognise the son she lives with. The outcome of that earlier wartime story is influencing the present and Christy decides to try and uncover some family secrets from her demented grandmother. The situation is complex but clever construction makes for a novel impossible to put down once started.’

I also wrote a brief outline of New Zealand Young Adult fiction for Magpies magazine, and mentioned Love, Charlie Mike:

… ‘Few teen writers have looked as hard at social issues as Paula Boock, But Kate De Goldi in Love, Charlie Mike shows an equally caring and serious approach.   She manages to create such real worlds that the characters seem to live just round the corner.  In my day, we left mussels for the Maoris,’ says Gran, freed by Alzheimers disease from the rules of society.  It is Christy who has to take over the role of authority figure as she tries to find out why her love affair with her Maori cousin has ended, and what the secret is that has eroded the happiness of her family.  Christy’s mature self-confidence, her passionate enthusiasm for life and her eagerness for the truth make her a marvellous character.  Kate De Goldi is the best of the emerging teen authors. …’

Closed, Stranger Kate De Goldi (1999 rep. 2018) Penguin pb $18  ISBN 9780143772040

This novel follows two close friends, Westie and Max, through an emotional crisis which destroys both their lives. Max tries to tell what happened; his story plunges back and forwards in time but builds a convincing picture.
To Westie, adopted at birth, family barely matters and he looks forward to leaving home. At Max’s house, it is Dad who has left home to live with a woman half his age. Max’s highly eccentric mother, Dee, leans heavily on Psychic Hotline for advice, while his young brother Leon seems increasingly disturbed.
Then two women enter the young men's lives. For Max, it is Meredith bringing him music, compassion and love. For Westie, it is Vicky, his birth-mother bringing him a mother’s love and heartache. Max becomes obsessed by his new-found ‘real’ mother, and, in a brilliantly written passage, is unbelievably cruel to his adoptive parents. Some have raised eyebrows at the hint of incest between mother and son, but this is very skilfully, almost tactfully, handled. (Apparently such attraction between an adopted child and a ‘birth’ parent is not uncommon.) When Vicky comes to her senses and leaves, Westie seems to lose his senses, and the threads of Max’s tale begin to come together in a tragic climax.
Closed, Stranger is a splendid story, gripping and well told. It deals well with such issues as drugs and youth suicide, without losing the drama and intensity of the plot. The dialogue is marvellously accurate. Many readers will be unhappy about the swearing but Kate De Goldi’s young men talk just like young men. They don’t always get things right but the reader learns lots from what they see and say. Ultimately the book is about people and their relationships with each other, their families and friends. De Goldi's characters interact with each other and develop and change with a satisfying rightness.

Trevor Agnew (1990s and Sep 2018)

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