by Michael Botur
published by Rangitawa Publishing
Reviewed by Paul Brooks
Two things alert the reader to the fact that this is a book worth read ing. First: it’s by
Michael Botur. Second: the foreword is by Alan Duff. Not only that, Alan endorses Michael Botur as an author. He has not endorsed an author in 29 years.
The foreword takes the form of an interview in which Michael puts the questions to Alan.
The questions are blunt: the answers are forthright. Don’t skip it. There are insights here
which put the book in perspective.
Crimechurch — yes, it’s about the criminal side of Christchurch — is a novel about a place and a time from the view point of six people, and they’re not nice. Five of them are immersed in a subculture of drugs, violence and a skewed outlook. The other is the mother of one of these people and she handles her son’s behaviour with excuses and blindness.
They don’t all come from similar backgrounds but the lives they lead follow a trajectory of sameness. Their reasons for doing what they do depend on where they’ve been, and to
some it’s not natural, but it’s cool… or something to brag or feel superior about.
Their stories are different but the author has managed to get under their skin and tell these tales from the inside.
It can be brutal, nasty, with moments of humour and some clever use of language.
I read this book in one sitting, not daring to interrupt the flow or decrease the story’s
speed by lifting my eyes from the page.
No matter where you come from, or where you’re planning to end up, this book will have you thinking thoughts you never thought possible, and finding empathy with characters you’ll probably never want to meet. They choose to be bad because it feels powerful.
Being able to hurt someone is a seriously hot power trip if you hang out with the right
crowd. For some, there might not even be thought or intention behind it. Living in the minute is like that, and this is not a Zen thing.
There are some things and people in this book you may not understand, but it’s possibly better that way.
Paul Little review
by Michael Botur
In four previous volumes of stories Botur has claimed for himself a piece of literary territory occupied by the desperate, downtrodden and damned. He tells his tales in what would have been called an “amphetamine-fuelled” prose style until all suggestion of acquaintance with amphetamines became socially unacceptable. Let’s go for “breakneck” and “febrile” to describe the prose and accept that much of his characters’ behaviour remains socially unacceptable.
The title refers to one side of life in Christchurch, examined here through a cast of character who include Marty, a 17-year-old South African immigrant from the right side of the tracks drawn to the wrong side, along with his girlfriend, brother and associates of varying levels of psychopathy, including Jade, whose appetite for violence is prodigious.
The pages are strewn with episodes of graphic violence. What your reviewer knows about violence at first hand could be tattooed on the knuckles of one fist, but these scenes wring gut-wrenchingly true. It’s not so much a slice of life as a life of slicing.
Everyone is in some sort of mess from which they can’t extricate themselves, no matter their station or ambition. Ultimately the book is about cycles: of debt, of violence, of incarceration, of family dysfunction. The hidden connections between the characters, when revealed, reinforce this fatalist theme, although the conclusion does not necessarily do the same.
There’s humour too, including plenty of word play and some vicious farce, such as the scene in which the gang world crashes into the world of school mouth expos and country shows or that in which Afrikaans and street slang butt heads at a family dinner.
Don’t worry that you’ll miss the point – Alan Duff is here to explain it for you in an incongruous upfront Q&A with the writer. It no doubt adds some authorial collegiality to the enterprise. but the book doesn’t need it.
Lives Less Ordinary
New Zealand Listener · 29 Apr 2019 · By MAGGIE TRAPP
Sixteen dark but well-crafted snapshots of Kiwi life.
Michael Botur’s work grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. In True?, the
Whangārei writer’s second short-story collection, we get up close and personal with a
welter of struggling, striving, forgotten, neglected, complicated, likeable, unlikeable,
smart and, often despite themselves, charming characters, each muddling his or her way
through life in today’s Aotearoa.
These stories dwell on moments of loneliness and regret in prose that is beautiful in its
frankness and charming in its understated humour. In Because I Love Him, we watch as,
maddeningly, a young girl is blind to the tragedy she is making of her life, yet we’re pulled into her story partly because of Botur’s lovely, inviting prose: “We lurch home on drunken streets, waves of tarmac lapping our feet.”
Botur is a master of voice and tone. His stories throb with what feel like real people, real
conversations, real moments of pain and hope, misunderstanding and reconciliation, remorse and surprise. And that’s the magic of this collection – what feels like real life can be so lovingly crafted and captured in all its minute detail. As we read these disparate chronicles of all manner of New Zealanders careering from disappointment to intimacy and back again, we’re left wondering how much of Botur’s content is taken from real life and how much is a crafted lie – and why this distinction matters.
TRUE? SHORT STORIES, by Michael Botur (NZShortstories.com, $25)
- Review of True? by Whanganui Midweek
- Radio NZ feature review
- Elsewhere review getting right behind ‘True?’ the short story collection
- Review and interview in NZME’s Whanganui Midweek, praising the shit out of True: short stories.
- November 2018 interview
- Review and interview in NZ Herald about Lowlife: short stories
- New review March 21 2018 – Wanganui Midweek by Paul Brooks, ed.
- Reviews on Goodreads
- Review in North & South magazine of Lowlife by Michael Botur (2017)
- Takahe reviews Spitshine
- Beattie’s Book Blog review
- NZ Book Lovers review of Spitshine
- NZ Book Lovers Review of Mean
- Takahe review of Lowlife
- Radio NZ praises the shit out of ‘True?’ https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2018691555/book-review-true-short-stories
- Radio NZ interview https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/standing-room-only/audio/201858846/writer-michael-botur-dirty-real-and-on-the-edge
- Smashwords interview https://www.smashwords.com/interview/TheMichaelBotur
- Stuff news https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/northland/whangarei-leader/99292544/northland-author-urges-writers-to-go-digital
- Botur on The Spinoff https://thespinoff.co.nz/author/michael-botur/
- Whangarei Libraries Flash Fiction Competition 2019 – 2nd
- Northland Short Story Award – for highest Northland place in the National Flash Fiction Day Competition
- North & South Short Story Story Competition 2019 – 2nd
- Whangarei Libraries Flash Fiction Comp 2015 – 1st and 2nd place winner
- Guest Fiction Writer (August 2014) – Tākahe magazine
- Miles Hughes Award – Third place in 2014
- Takahe poetry competition 2012 – runner-up
- Dan Davin Literary Award 2009 – Highly commended
- NZSA Short Story Competition 2008/9 – Third, for ‘Latter Day Lepers’
- Kiwi Short Story Competition, 2009 – Second, for ‘Home D’
- Her magazine Short Story Competition, 2008 – Winner
- F*nk short short story competition, 2005 – 2nd
‘Michael Botur’s work grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go […] These stories dwell on moments of loneliness and regret in prose that is beautiful in its frankness and charming in its understated humour […] Botur is a master of voice and tone. His stories throb with what feel like real people, real conversations, real moments of pain and hope, misunderstanding and reconciliation, remorse and surprise. And that’s the magic of this collection – what feels like real life can be so lovingly crafted and captured in all its minute detail.” – Maggie Trapp, NZ Listener
‘He’s in a league of his own, but there’s no denying he should be mainstream. Everyone should have access to this author’s work. His tales are gritty, gutsy and gripping … there’s no doubt you’re inside the head of a master storyteller. True? is a collection of stories, honed by the writer’s skill to a jagged edge. […] Michael Botur’s talent shows a skill broad, diverse and still very focused. He has mastered the art of the short story, letting one sentence say so much, giving his word-people substance and keeping their dialogue or monologue true to character.
The authenticity is so scary, you wonder where this man has been and what demons followed him home. His stories – settings, plots and characters – have a strong whiff of reality. They are either well researched or the author has been there, making for an interesting juxtaposition of worlds.” – Paul Brooks, Wanganui Midweek
‘Written in unvarnished street language about the rougher side of life – drugs, jail and death, the book shows rare bravery and honesty […] The thing about Michael Botur is his voice is very much a street voice. His language is street language: it’s raw, it’s coarse, it’s obscene. It’s tough and it’s confronting […] There are gems – some of them are absolutely great.” – Ian Telfer, Radio New Zealand
‘Most of the characters would not cut it at any ‘respectable’, politically-correct middle-class family’s dining table. That is partly why this book is such a tasty, refreshing read. It’s as if Mr Botur hung out at CBD fast-food outlets after midnight – swilling bad coffee on a hard-plastic seat, listening to conversations, and jotting observational notes under the garish yellow lighting. There is a ring of authenticity about these stories – both in the language used by the characters and in the physical descriptions of their environments. It is interesting to speculate as to which stories might spring from Botur’s own experience. His plots – cause and effect, rapid-fire ‘shaggy-dog’, or ‘wtf?’ – are well-crafted and his characters convincing. Botur is not so much a moralist, as an informer – without ever becoming a show-off. […] Lowlife is super phat. Buy it and start reading.’ –Jeremy Roberts, takahē
‘Prosaic gems and beautiful phrasing.’- Paul Brooks, Wanganui Midweek
‘Botur wields demotic vocabulary, and agitated rhythms, combined in collages of invective and obscenity, with much skill. It’s a neat trick that’s easy to stuff up, but he consistently gets it right. Granny Frankenstein […] is a small, comic masterpiece and the perfect conclusion to a remarkably satisfying collection.’ – Paul Little, North & South
‘Both heartbreaking and heartwarming… Like his previous collection Mean, Botur uses authentic street language and slang to perfectly portray real life in Spitshine. Once again, readers may need to put extra effort in to keep their rhythm going, but they will be rewarded. Botur speaks about the unspoken.’ – Rebekah Fraser, NZ Book Lovers
‘Spitshine contains 16 short stories from a writer considered one of the most original story writers of his generation in New Zealand. It is a generous selection of work: smart, wry, humorous and very stylish. Michael Botur’s stories investigate the vagaries of perception and the ability of language to convey life on the edge with imagination and art so that we arrive, unexpectedly, at the mysteries of the downtrodden. Botur gives us new, unpredictable views of the world – by turns energetic, exuberant, exasperating, fed-up, ridiculous and serious. He author arranges for things to happen to bad people, with a view to the reader coming to sympathise in some way with them. Markedly different in subject, they all speak about something unspeakable: methods of killing, volunteer work, stealing someone else’s wife, story writing, couch potatoes and more. Reading these stories in close succession left me both exhilarated and exhausted. […] In fluid, poetic, but contemporary language, Botur expertly orchestrates his plots giving them suspense and real feeling for his characters […] Spitshine strikes a beautiful balance between mystery and disclosure, bravery and the desire to illuminate the seedier side of life.’ – Patricia Prime, takahē
‘Fifteen short stories that are closely observed, energetic and original. With a wry humour, they depict people on the margins of society who are struggling to survive, people who are up against it in many different ways, who have difficulties with the system and its conformities.’ – Piet Nieuwland, Landfall Review Online
‘These stories are energetic, often breathless, containing concrete detail, close observation, originality and power. Most of them use street language in a playful, or serious manner. The collection is peppered with expletives, topics about sex, drugs, viciousness and breaking the law. Botur’s work might be seen to betray a debt to the tradition of modernism, the kind of luminous fluidity one finds in Rimbaud. […] The words demand an inner listening from readers, and extra effort to keep meaningful their strangeness, their idiosyncrasy, their authentic street language and expletives Ultimately, the voices that emerge from Mean are funny, likeable (or not), poignant. Botur is in an honourable tradition of comic, and yes, ‘popular’ stories.’ – Patricia Prime, takahē
‘As a former journalist he has perfected the skill of telling a story and evoking emotion. Botur is a clever writer. He has mastered the art of leaving things unsaid. Mean is raw, gritty and, at times, deeply unsettling. But it is also funny, touching and bittersweet. A refreshing yet confronting read that will challenge the hardiest soul.’ – Rebekah Fraser, NZ Book Lovers