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March 2, 2009 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Misconduct – Bridget van der Zijpp

I heard Bridget give a reading from her novel at the Jimmy Bar, during a Summer Books Alive event for Writers & Readers, and laughed out loud so much that I had to get my hands on a copy.

Van der Zijpp is a graduate of the VUW Institute of Modern Letters (IML) programme, and read along with Kate de Goldi, Jenny Bornholdt, Elizabeth Knox, Bernard Beckett and Duncan Sarkies (more of whom later). My initial response was not altered much by a considered reading of the whole text, during one of those rainy weeks we’ve had recently.

First, a caveat: I am approximately the same generation as the author, and for me, the characters had a validity and honesty that leapt off the page. I have known (and, God help me, slept with) just such a man as her bad-boy character, Fraser. The details of how abuse and charm can be inextricably enmeshed in one person rang true for me, and I suspect will for many women who’ve had a couple of decades worth of experience of ‘relationships’ and other interactions with the predatory, noncommittal variant of Kiwi alpha male.

However, I’m sure that younger women will enjoy this story, too: after all, the divorce rate in New Zealand is so high that a large proportion of us have seen our mothers’ hysterical attempts to re-partner, resulting in a plethora of bad-date stories and “slimy toad” file entries.

This, then, is the milieu that van der Zijpp captures in amber, along with a very interesting plot intersection with the fears and habits of the independent elderly in a self-contained seaside community in rural north Auckland. Provincial rural life is rendered finely—another plot characteristic which had me chuckling in moments of recognition—with crafted vignettes of well-observed staples of the Kiwi countryside.

There is also a subplot of psychodramatic potential, as we wonder whether the main character, Simone, is a woman who has got in touch with her rage (in true feminist consciousness-raising style), or if she has crossed the boundary into losing touch with reality and herself in the process. The resolution of this question comes late in the piece, as she gains validation for her responses to her abusive ex, from an unexpected quarter.

I was a little disappointed with the romantic denouement, as it seemed too neatly slid into the scenario to be plausible; so this is chicklit with attitude, but still a bit romcom for all that. If you like happy endings, this is the book for you.


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