A story infused with trademark Mahy magic, Eleanor Bassett
October 26, 2021
I was once part of a book club that got to send questions to Margaret Mahy. Since then, her books contain weirdly more meaning, as the author is even more personified to me (perhaps a positive part that’s left out of discussions around the link between the author and their personality, and their work?). The first Margaret Mahy YA novel I remember reading was Organ Music, a book that I couldn’t find on my shelves and forgot I read until this one; Kaitangata Twitch.
Kaitangata Twitch has the trademarks of a Mahy YA book. As I read the first chapter, having been away from Mahy for a while, it was stark to me Mahy’s overzealous use of descriptions and literary devices. Although that first chapter felt heavy in similes and personification, I found that this books storyline and ideas actually fit that quite heavy usage. That’s the magic of Mahy; writing quirks that would be a deathblow to other books aren’t for hers, because she bends them in a way that makes them feel natural and needed!
In Kaitangata Twitch, Meredith and her family live opposite the island of Kaitangata. A land and property developer, Sebastian Marriot (if this was a deliberate name choice, I would love to know!), who also happens to have grown up in the area, moves in to claim surrounding land and the island. Using the conflict from the land development and Meredith’s family, who want the land to stay as it is, Mahy gives a pandoras box to unpack. Generational change, entitlement, performative activism, money and class, community conflict…..
Early on, Meredith’s older sister Kate is confronted by Lee Kaa about her stance on the land changing use and hands. Kaa points out that Kate and Meredith’s family had only been there a generation, and when they arrived they brought roads, electricity, and the like. Kate views what Marriot wants to do (building new houses on the hill) as ‘different’. Later, when someone the family knows buys into Marriot’s plans, their father has to openly confront how far his ideals about the development go.
Meredith and the island of Kaitangata (in Māori, meaning food and people) have a special bond; only awoken when both links to each other feel threatened. In her nightmares, Meredith experiences, and sleepwalks to, a version of the island that doesn’t exist in her waking hours. Mahy executes the descriptions of the dreams vividly; playing on all the things most people have nightmares about. I actively felt uncomfortable reading the description of the island in Meredith’s dream. Thank goodness I was reading in the daytime!
The resolution of this novel is at the same time realistic, predictable and unnerving. Fences begin to mend in the community, Marriot leaves for Sydney in financial ruin, the island stays as it is for now, but the houses on the hill go ahead with council permission and other developers. Again, this is Mahy magic; pointing out the unnerving bit of this is that there is no pretty bow, the island could be touched in the future, the houses will appear, but the resolution and ‘happy’ ending is that it can be lived with and accepted.
- Eleanor Bassett is 19, and lives in Upper Hutt. When she isn’t attempting to be Dr Dolittle, or the next Pippa Funnell or Molly Huddle; she pores over and overanalyses all forms of literary and media!