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  • Writer's pictureLilac Mills

Fishing for Maui by Isa Pearl Ritchie


A novel about food, whānau and mental illness. Valerie reads George Eliot to get to sleep – just to take her mind off worries over her patients, her children, their father and the next family dinner. Elena is so obsessed with health, traditional food, her pregnancy and her blog she doesn’t notice that her partner, Malcolm the ethicist, is getting himself into a moral dilemma of his own making. Evie wants to save the world one chicken at a time. Meanwhile her boyfriend, Michael, is on a quest to reconnect with his Māori heritage and discover his own identity. Rosa is eight years old and lost in her own fantasy world, but she’s the only one who can tell something’s not right.

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This is not my usual kind of read and I wasn't sure what to expect. The writing was quite poetic, rather literary in places, slow and even, like the breathing of someone sleeping, punctuated by the whimpers of a bad dream as event affect the various characters.

Mental illness comes into the book, most obviously because one of the characters is hospitalised and medicated, but the vein runs through every one of the main characters in the story, as though the author wants the reader to understand that no one is truly 'normal' - we all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Food is another overarching theme, and it was interesting to read the different opinions, especially of Elena and Evie. Another thing I took from this book is that the relationships between family members are usually complex, diverse and often deep-rooted. The author also explores the bonds between mother and children, and how mothers, once the whole world to their children, can so often be dismissed and discarded as her offspring grow and move away from her.

In some ways, this is a an easy books to read as it flows and ebbs, with its lovely language and descriptions. It was also intriguing to read about the Maori culture. In other ways, some of the subjects dealt with in the story are very real and very pertinent, and does make you reflect.

What is certain though I realised, as I came to the end of the book, is that most of the characters evolve and develop and that was more than enough to keep me turning the page.

About the Author

Isa Ritchie is a Wellington-based writer. She grew up as a Pākehā child in a bicultural family and Māori was her first written language. She has completed a PhD on food sovereignty in Aotearoa. She is passionate about food, wellbeing and social justice.

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