Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mansfield with Monsters – critics say what?

Mansfield with Monsters (Steam Press, 2012) has been reviewed a fair few times both online and in print (in some high profile publications!). Here’s a quick roundup of what’s been said and where:

Simon Litten got the ball rolling with a fantastic review of an advance copy of the book for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand:

“…If Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a one note song then Mansfield with Monsters is a choral piece of depth and vibrancy. This is a book that should adorn the shelf of every lover of fiction: master works by a master of short fiction. Mansfield is that good.”


This was closely followed by Mary McCallum’s Radio New Zealand review:

"It's a lot of fun, it's very weird... you get the original language and then in and out come these creatures... often, to my mind, the resolution involves the supernatural in rather stunning and wonderful ways... I will never see the little lamp in the same way again... it's rather gorgeous how that builds up... there is enormous fun to be had. I think secondary school students will love this to bits..."


Paula Green from the New Zealand Herald was less impressed, describing the book in some detail then going on to say:

“To me, the book feels like an idea with intriguing potential that never goes beyond the narrow constraints of an exercise. It diminishes the power of Mansfield and never reaches the magnificence of the great writers of speculative fiction (Kelly Link, for example). Perhaps Mansfield kept getting in the way.”


John Toon, who was at the book launch, wrote on his blog:

“In a similar vein to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with three unique selling points: for the Kiwi readership, it's based around the work of a New Zealand author; it's comprised of several short stories rather than a novel, so the ideas don't outstay their welcome and you're not left with a single gag stretched out for a couple of hundred pages; and the supernatural additions have generally been tailored to each story, rather than just being incongruous elements bolted on.  Basically, it's the art mash-up... Highly impressed with this book.”


Ngaire Atmore’s review in The Herald on Sunday (reproduced with permission on the BookieMonster site) was short but sweet, including the following lines:

“To put it simply, Mansfield with Monsters is quite brilliant. Funny, dark and seamless – Mansfield’s moody characters only seem enhanced by a bit of blood and gore. Steam Press is really the best new NZ publisher at the moment and I can’t wait to see what’s coming out next.”


Goodreads.com is a fantastic site for bibliophiles, and to date Mansfield with Monsters has been favourably rated and reviewed:

Amber – “Mansfield with Monsters is engagingly written, and the authors’ voice will pull you effortlessly into each story. The supernatural elements were such a natural part of each story that if I ever do read any of Katherine Mansfield’s originals, I’m fully expecting there to be zombies involved. My personal favourite was The Woman at the Store, which I found as deeply creepy as only a good horror can be.”

Marie – “Katherine Mansfield's writing is characterised by a subtle unease - a niggling sense of menace lurking just below the surface of middle-class New Zealand and English life. Rather than gut this innate tension with the addition of a supernatural twist, Matt and Debbie Cowens tease it out to create stories of Cthulian horror - occasionally epic, but often within the domestic and personal spheres that Mansfield excelled at depicting.”


David Larsen at The Listener had reservations before reading the book, but found it to be ‘grand fun’:

“The Cowens tweak Mansfield’s stories the absolute minimum amount required to transform them into HP Lovecraftian horrors. (It’s less than you’d think.) They bring a wicked sense of humour and a keen editorial ear to the project; I ended up reading their versions with the originals open beside me, so I could track down each individual alteration. Because you never know what the fantasy element in a given story will be, you have to treat each metaphor as a potential literal statement. The uncertainty transforms the reading experience delightfully: the girl described as a butterfly in The Garden Party might actually have wings. She doesn’t, it transpires, but ravenous giant insects feature. Everyone is very matter of fact about them. More from the Cowens, please.”


Jacqui Smith, writing in NovaZine (Auckland SF Society), tipped Mansfield with Monsters as a likely award nominee in next year’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards:

"“Mansfield with Monsters” proved to be a remarkably entertaining read. The macabre twist added to each tale is always different, and always delightful. I found myself wondering with anticipation, as I began a new story, where the Cowens would take this one. The level of integration of new material into the stories is sufficiently seamless that I found myself trawling the Internet for the originals to make comparisons...No doubt the Mansfield purists will be rolling their eyes in horror, but I’d certainly recommend this book for those English teachers who would appreciate a fresh take on Mansfield, bored students who need a break from the traditional short story, and anybody who likes properly scary horror fiction. Expect to see this book up for the Sir Julius Vogel awards next year.


Most recently, Mansfield fan and prominent book blogger Mel U reviewed Mansfield with Monsters on the highly popular The Reading Life website:

“The stories in Mansfield with Monsters:  The Untold Stories of a New Zealand Icon are brilliant, quite wonderful retellings of the most famous of Mansfield's short stories as if they were tales from the dark side.   They are so well done that they do feel just like she wrote them.   There are seventeen stories in this collection.  I really liked every one.  Some are laugh out loud funny and some are beautiful.   Mansfield's stories are often about lonely left out people and these stories capture that...Mansfield with Monsters:  The Untold Stories of a New Zealand Icon by Matt and Debbie Cowens is a totally fun, wonderfully written and very perceptive collection of stories.   You can tell the Cowens loved writing  these stories and I loved reading them.”


Mansfield with Monsters has yet to be reviewed or rated on Amazon – we are very curious to see what ebook readers have to say!

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