Covering spring, summer and autumn of 2001-2012, various voices from an extended New Zealand family talk us through their family dynamics, their crises, their obsessions and their aspirations.
Hamilton, NZ – Elena is expecting her first baby with her ethics lecturer partner, Malcolm. Elena is obsessed with healthy eating and writes a food blog. Malcolm is feeling a little neglected and spends a lot of time on Facebook. Elena’s mum, Valerie, is a GP, a Christian and divorced from Caleb, who lives up North and watches a lot of sport on TV. Michael, Elena’s brother, is a surfer, a varsity student and is beginning to explore his Māori heritage, helped by Gayle, his grandma. Evie is Michael’s on again off again girlfriend, a vegan and angry animal rights campaigner. John is Valerie’s younger son and angry full stop – feeling neglected and hard done by, especially by his younger sister, Rosa. Rosa is eight year’s old and having a hard time at school and at home.
If you think you might get lost with all these different characters, you won’t; Ritchie has given them all different voices, opinions and backgrounds. Fishing for Māui is a study in identity – how we are constantly trying to make a claim about who we are through our behaviour, food preferences, who we associate with … The novel also touches on the problems of those from cultural backgrounds where a family has drifted (or been pushed) from those cultural roots – where world views have to be learned rather than absorbed.
Fishing for Māui has a lot to say about our need for attention, and the perils of becoming too self-absorbed in our own passions and interest to give care and attention to those closest to us – all of Valerie’s children feel neglected, and all feel resentment towards someone else for getting all the attention. Also mentioned is the role of spiritual belief; on the one hand giving us something other people might be failing to give, and on the other providing crucial information about our identity and where we have come from.
Another theme is the medicalisation of various aspects of our lives: pregnancy, mental instability, the handling of early cancer avoidance treatments and the management of eating disorders. If this all sounds over-whelming, it isn’t. The book flows effortlessly through the seasons, characters develop and relationships change. There is a slight tendency to preach about the invasive treatment of early stage cervical abnormalities, but apart from that there is a lightness of touch which allows the characters to shine through. The book is a “slice of life”; things are not neatly resolved in the end – there are various ways the stories of these interesting characters might play out – which is one of the many things I liked about this book – another one being the lovely telling of the Māui hero stories which are scattered throughout.