Thursday 20 May 2021 11:37am
Life and death in a Christchurch mansion
Come Back to Mona Vale is a beautifully written, compelling narrative/memoir that sets about unravelling the mysteries and anomalies behind the public history of a wealthy Christchurch business family in the first half of the 20th century.
The author-as narrator gradually becomes aware that his family heritage isn’t necessarily the norm, nor what he expected. He realises that family members don’t speak to each other about the most private events.
The story unfolds like a crime or detective tale, and also delves into the history of the Canterbury settlement, contrasting Christchurch’s public values, aspirations and beauty with its murkier private behaviour. And yet the story is told with a graceful touch and an eye for the vivid, comic and telling detail.
Alexander McKinnon’s exploration of his family’s past is the record of a beautiful and grand (yet gradually crumbling) manor interwoven with social history – with a sense of the Gothic, of obsession, and of a tight-knit circle where secrets wreak a terrible climax leading to a form of inter-generational haunting.
McKinnon’s speculations over the changes in the family path or fortune read a little like a crime narrative, but perhaps the term ‘archival psychologist’ is more apt, as he tries to divine a sense of character from incomplete records of his complicated ancestry. Come Back to Mona Vale is told with a graceful touch and an eye for the vivid, comic and telling detail. — Emma Neale
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Alexander McKinnon was educated in Christchurch and overseas, and lives in Wellington. His essay ‘Canterbury Gothic’, a summary version of this story, won the 2020 Landfall Essay Competition. This is his first book.
Paperback, 210 x 148mm, 288pp approx
ISBN 9781990048067, $40
IN-STORE: OCT 2021