Widely considered `New Zealand's greatest living author', Nelson-based Maurice Gee has penned dozens of beloved tales, ranging from children's to adult, fantasy to realism. The near-octogenarian's latest (and reportedly, perhaps last) adult novel, Access Road, may be slim in size (200 pages), but it's still a very good read, packed with trademark Gee themes, style, and moments.
Elderly Rowan Pinker narrates a brooding tale of family relationships and dark secrets, shifting back and forth in time as she searches her memory for reasons behind her bedridden brother Lionel's silence. Rowan lives a somewhat-contented life with her "silly old git" of a husband Dickie, a cheerful drunk, in "upper crusty" Takapuna - but regularly visits her siblings Roly and Lionel, who've moved back to the old family home in Access Road, Loomis (a fictionalised West Auckland). Visits that spark a flood of memories, not all of them pleasant; particularly those involving sinister childhood friend Clyde Buckley. Is he the key to Lionel's troubles?
Gee writes with spare elegance, ably evoking the landscape (natural and human) of small-town Loomis. He is a maestro at creating layered characters full of ambiguity, depth and conflict; shades of grey rather than black and white. Rowan is a geriatric everywoman, but has she compromised her morality in the past, allowing darkness to flourish? Once again Gee scratches below the surface, finding the menace behind the mundane, the evil behind the everyday. A solid addition to a remarkable writing career.