Starlight Peninsula by Charlotte Grimshaw – 2015

starlight‘I just want to be able to say I asked’ – Eloise Hay is reeling after her husband has left her for a younger woman; lacking in self-esteem she is seeing a shrink and the bottom of a lot of empty wine bottles.  She fixates on an earlier time when her previous lover, journalist Arthur Weeks, was found dead – a death that was determined to have been accidental.  Eloise, who ‘prided herself on being observant’ becomes not so observant of what is happening in the present, but increasingly aware of subconscious things she ‘knows’ about the past.  Feeling guilty about her failure to ask more questions at the time of Arthur’s death she starts asking now – about the initial investigation and about what Arthur may have found out about the lives of New Zealand’s rich and powerful.  Starlight Peninsula is a joy to read on so many levels:  It reprises characters from Grimshaw’s previous novels The Night Book and Soon – Eloise works for TV Journalist Scott Roysmith; Roza and David Hallwright (now ex-Prime Minister) are the subject of Arthur’s research etc.  It draws heavily on real political events in New Zealand politics – Kurt Hartmann is an obese German computer game champion, who made millions from a file sharing site and who has been spied on illegally by the GCSB at the request of the US.  So it is set in a familiar world – both real and imagined, and also refers to a familiar cultural heritage: Eloise finally picks up the classics Arthur always encouraged her to read – she is up to Chekhov at the time of the novel, and she quotes Yeats to Simon Lampton – a gynaecologist (and friend of the ex-Prime Minister) who becomes central to Eloise’s mission.  Amidst this familiarity Grimshaw is able to let things get pretty creepy – and for us to experience Eloise’s paranoia; due to her drinking and her feelings of guilt we often recognise oddities before Eloise does – drawing us not only into the unravelling of the mystery but also into sharing her – possibly – distorted view of events.  Starlight Peninsula is a great comment on our current political times – it talks about involuntary behaviour, individuals who think they are making decisions but who are actually acting according to group dynamics – Eloise even ends up researching mass hysteria.  ‘I just want to be able to say I asked’ – but when we get the information what do we do with it?

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