Two Oxford dons, Mike Newall and Bertie Winterstoke, attend the funeral of Donovan O'Dwyer, an expatriate New Zealander. After the ceremony, Newall reveals that O'Dwyer spent his life haunted by a Maori curse, the "makutu", allegedly brought down upon him because he killed one of his own men.
What really happened to a soldier in the infamous Maori battalion, killed in the battle for Crete during World War II? And why did the soldier's family place a curse on O'Dwyer, the officer who was his commander at the time he died? Half a century later two Oxford dons, Newall and Winterstoke, attend the funeral of their colleague O'Dwyer, an expatriate New Zealander. After the ceremony, Newall reveals to Winterstoke the story of the curse placed on O'Dwyer during the war and, in the days that follow, he continues the tales of O'Dwyer and his 'cursed' life. Slowly the stories of Newall, another New Zealander in self-enforced exile, and of Winterstoke are also revealed in Stead's complex and subtle narrative which shifts across time and space from New Zealand to Oxford to Croatia and to Crete at the time of the allied defeat there.
C.K. Stead was Professor of English at the University of Auckland. He is well known both among students of literature for his superb study of Yeats, Eliot and the Georgian Poets, The New Poetic, and among readers of contemporary writing for his eight novels. He is the only New Zealand writer to have won the New Zealand Book Award for both poetry and fiction, winning twice for the novels All Visitors Ashore and The Singing Whakapapa. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1974 he was awarded the C.B.E. for services to New Zealand literature.
Two novels by a critically acclaimed New Zealand writer - All Visitors Ashore is set in 1951 and in Auckland the young Curt Skidmore's head is full of novels waiting to be unravelled and his trousers full of something much more irrepressible. Talking About O'Dwyer is set in Oxford and Oxford don Mike Newall after attending a colleague's funeral he reveals a secret that the family of a Maori soldier killed during World War Two placed a curse on O'Dwyer - and the story is not just O'Dwyer's but Newall's as well.
Opening at High Table inside an Oxford college, this novel unfolds its secrets in flashback. Two elderly dons, guests at the funeral of their cheerful but under-achieving colleague Donavan O'Dwyer, recall his life in the usual terms before one of them lets drop an astonishing secret. Their convivial, womanising friend once killed a man. Or rather, he was responsible for the death of a Maori soldier under his wartime command. In consequence, the soldier's family laid a curse - the Makutu - on their friend. After this revelation the narrative shifts back in time and up several gears, becoming far more than the thriller it first appeared to be. Mike Newell, the don with the secret, is a Wittgenstein scholar, and as he relates O'Dwyer's story, he gradually realises how intertwined it is with the details which underpin his own life: his own experiences of war, his understanding of language and philosophy and the very New Zealand origins he shares with O'Dwyer. As we get closer to the truth of what really happened, we also learn about war itself - its confusion, its strange logic, its hyper-reality. Throguh the act of storytelling, Newell is able to make some kind of sense out of the past - both his own and O'Dwyer's - and overcome the power of its ghosts and curses. (Kirkus UK)
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