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June 2011 Issue
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Wulf

Wulf, by Hamish Clayton

By Hamish Clayton

Penguin, $30

Wulf is a fact-based novel about the great Maori chief Te Rauparaha. It’s told like a fireside tale by two English sailors manning an historic trading ship called Elizabeth whose captain allowed the warrior chief to use his brig as a Trojan horse to attack the Ngai Tahu tribe in Akaroa.

This debut novel by New Zealand author Hamish Clayton conveys an eerie and stirring feeling for what New Zealand must have looked and felt like to 18th Century sailors from Europe. Through his primary narrator, Clayton takes readers into a wild, untouched land with places, plants, birds and landscapes mysterious and alien to the newcomers.

The tactile images in the book make me wish I could experience the country as it was when Europeans first began trading here. As the Elizabeth sails down the west coast of the North Island towards Te Rauparaha’s fort on Kapiti Island, the ship’s trading master tells the crew frightening tales about the warrior chief’s life. Clayton succeeds in seamlessly weaving these stories in with the experience of the sailors and their growing unease as they sail closer to a native chief they view with a superstitious fear and admiration.

Equally eerie poetry and a few simple images add to the narrative and provide a break to long sections of text. With only 240 pages and big font, Wulf is an easy-to-read and absorbing novel perfect for indulgent reading in the backcountry.

– Josh Gale

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