Fosterling, by Emma Neale (Random, 2010, $29.99)
I’ve read two New Zealand novels recently that have on their covers walls of dense bush with arch-shaped escape-routes in them, through which can be seen the light at the end of the tunnel. First, Patrick Evans’ superb, mimetic Gifted, and now this layered and original novel from Emma Neale, Fosterling. On the Neale cover, a tall, fuzzy, uncertain-looking man walks away from the camera, framed by the arch. But he is really walking toward us, the reader, Kiwis, living just beyond the bush. The New Zealand undergrowth, it seems, whether suburban or back-block, continues to deliver a range of fictive mysteries to us, from literary icons, to pig-hunting blokes, to tutus-and-gumboots, to the unlikely Tarzan Presley, to tall hairy beasts. These characters, the invention of the bush or of those who live alongside it, come shyly into the light.
In Fosterling, a yeti-like creature called Bu, seven feet tall and covered in a thick pelt of glossy hair, emerges from deep, dark South Westland bush. Initially mute, he inspires a media circus, but also draws out tenderness and compassion among the small group of people who try to protect and care for him. As Bu’s story unfolds, we learn to liken him to a sasquatch, to Big Foot, to a maero; he creates a connecting tissue of universal myth set here in New Zealand. And we wonder, mesmerisingly, where he came from and what will happen to him.