Kathleen Gallagher’s recently published book, Inangahua Gold is not really a novel, that is, a story of psychologically complex individuals, but rather a romance in the medieval sense of the genre, so that there are heroes and villains, lovers and magic, gatekeepers and heralds, and good eventually overcomes evil.
There are two parallel stories; a party made up of a Maori woman guide, an Irishman also playing a guide role and a Pommy coloniser on his way to the gold fields across the alps and a second story, twenty years later, centred on a West Coast publican family caring for a Chinese gold miner brought in wounded by a young Maori. The Irishman and the Maori guide are attracted to each other as are the young Maori and one of the publican’s daughters, but arranged marriages in the Maori world are the stumbling block in both cases. It turns out however, that the publican is the Irishman from the first story and the Maori boy’s mother the Maori guide. Their wives and husbands have died so love wins out. That’s the plot with its romance characters and happy ending.
But there’s more to the book than that, for throughout, the natural world of Te Wai Pounamu is a poetic presence. This is in many ways a beautifully told story of flora and fauna. And the tale is also suffused by whakapapa (genealogy) as a totalising agency. Maori, Irish, English, Chinese, German intertwine to form a chain of belonging. It is then a Pakeha inhabiting a Maori social landscape and pulling it off.
The book is simply produced, with a brown card cover which picks up stains; it immediately begins to belong. And this sense of belonging is fused in an innocence characteristic of the author as a person. Yet there is a great knowledge as well. I am reminded of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.
It can feel like a film script at times, the people stock characters at others, but the humanity and the aroha shine through. In a literary market increasingly populated by novels written by creative writing course graduates where the first twenty pages can be excellent then the whole things disintegrates because the author doesn’t actually know anything of the world and is not a committed person in any shape or form, Inangahua Gold is a precious reminder of the role of literature