Is That Love?

Is That Love?

by jezweb on October 19, 1999

‘IS THAT LOVE?’ (1999)
by MARGARET SUTHERLAND

Margaret Sutherland, one of New Zealand’s finest story writers, has published six books variously in Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the USA. Many of her short stories have been printed, broadcast and anthologised. In the Hunter Valley, where she has lived since 1985, Margaret is also an honoured piano teacher.

Is That Love? includes some stories that are now out of print or very difficult of access, as well as new work. Short story collections are often considered to have limited commercial prospects, but Catchfire, delighted by the quality of this collection, is determined to reach out to the audience such writing deserves.

What is love? Do we ever outgrow our need to answer that question? The people in these stories love passionately, some greedily, some hopelessly, some fearfully, and some in the long, quiet sacrifice called duty. Margaret Sutherland’s style is a wryly observant realism. Her stories, set in Australia, Fiji, Papua-New Guinea and, of course, New Zealand, carry the reader from suburban homes to impersonal hotels, from a strip-show to a nursing home. The lives of their intensely recognisable characters, however striking and exotic their surroundings, are depicted quite without sentimentality. Most of them are battlers, some unmistakably losers, and often people of great courage. They are not ‘communicators’—they hold back their feelings even in emergency—but they can learn, at least about their own hearts and often about the hearts of others.

The occasionally sombre implications of this rewarding collection are enlivened by wit, incisive irony, and an amused sympathy for the more or less inadequate human beings who struggle with love in its many forms, or to survive its absence. The seemingly simple style is in fact highly polished. In this world there is little enough love to share around, and the quota of human happiness, even for the loving, often seems small, but alert awareness enlightens us and a wise resignation sustains us.

The cool, witty cover is by Hunter Valley artist and poet Jan Dean. Is That Love? was launched by Greg Heys, then the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, in Newcastle City Hall in October 1998. The Sydney launching was by Professor Elizabeth Webby at the Sydney Writers’ Centre, in the same month.

215 pages, r.r.p. $5.95

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