Enter the draw and win some very cool literary things!
Ten years ago today one of New Zealand’s most elegant and brilliant men of letters, novelist and essayist Nigel Cox, died. He was 55. He was special. He wrote very cool books, none cooler than his remarkable novel Tarzan Presley, in 2004, an antic and also kind of profound novel about, you know, Tarzan and Elvis Presley, set partly in the Wairarapa….Nigel Cox! Special dude.
The Spinoff in association with Unity Books and Victoria University Press wish to mark the date by giving away – gasp! – three Nigel Cox gift sets.
- a rare and highly collectible T-shirt of the title that can never speak its name (because the estate of Tarzan creator, Edgar Burroughs, were Very Unhappy about the copyright, and forced the publisher to change the title of the book to Jungle Rock Blues)!
- a poster !!
- a badge!!!
- and a copy of Jungle Rock Blues!!!!
You can enter the draw in two ways. Option A: email your name and address to Victoria-Press@vuw.ac.nz . Option B: tweet #whatwouldlnigelsay to @unitybooks
You will be the coolest mofo on the block in your litigated Tarzan Presley T-shirt – and you will also have your mind BLOWN by the book.
All are welcome to rock up to Auckland’s Unity store tonight around 5 pm – 7pm when they’ll be hosting a drink in Nigel’s memory. His publisher and long-time friend Fergus Barrowman will be on hand to say some words and announce the winner of the 2016 Nigel Cox Award.
Bill Manhire neatly described Tarzan Presley as “a wild, slow-motion astonishment”. Nice; better yet was David Larsen’s rave review in the New Zealand Herald on May 31, 2004. We reprint it below, with the gracious permission of the Herald and David Larsen.
This book should not exist. I can’t believe it does.
“Raised by gorillas in the wild jungles of New Zealand, scarred in battles with vicious giant weta, seduced by a beautiful young scientist, discovered by Memphis record producer Sam Phillips and adored by millions, the dirt-to-dreams life story of Tarzan Presley is as legendary as his 30 number one hits…”
In the film industry, this is the kind of brilliant high concept that would convince producers they were on to something very marketable. Tarzan! Elvis! Hey, what if they were really the same person? And what if this person faked his death and wrote a memoir in old age? So that all the myths about Elvis being still alive were, you know, really true! Only it would be Tarzan!
The film would be a disaster, and my job as a reviewer would be to sound as witty as possible while saying so.
Whereas Nigel Cox’s fourth novel has me jumping up and down excitedly because I can’t believe how good it is. To take such an unlikely, attention-getting idea and develop it into such an intelligent book — it’s like seeing someone suddenly make a successful film of Lord of the Rings in Miramar. Go back in time a decade and tell people about it, and you’d be laughed right back into the present.
Cox breaks his story into three sections, each of which presents challenges quite capable of sinking the novel.
The first third is the tale of a little boy raised by gorillas in the wilds of the Wairarapa, circa 1935. Cox could have treated the outrageous idea that gorillas should be roaming the New Zealand bush as a sort of magic realist game, so silly that we’d simply have to laugh and swallow it.
Instead he treats the gorillas, and Tarzan’s life with them, the way the very best science fiction writers might: he builds them into hard reality by giving us lots of convincing detail, so that very soon we know how these gorillas live and smell, how the world looks to them and to the strange hairless ape they’ve adopted. Of course there are gorillas in New Zealand, how could we have doubted? Oh, and also cow-sized weta.
Having written a much more believable and thought-provoking account of a human raised by gorillas than Edgar Rice Burroughs ever managed, Cox then has his Kiwi Tarzan discovered, taken to America, adopted into the Presley family, and almost destroyed by mega-stardom.
The logic of the transition is impeccable, which is just one sign that Cox is in the demigod league. You know he’s doing something deeply artificial right in front of you— grafting one legend on to another — and you can’t see the stage machinery or hear the gears grinding. It all makes perfect sense.
The third part of the novel is where Tarzan re-emerges as an independent character, old enough and experienced enough now to see all the wrong turns that led to Vegas. We’re off the map here, past re-workings of Burroughs and re-tellings of the Elvis story, and Cox quietly gives the culmination of Tarzan’s life its own proper form. It’s neither sensational nor predictable; you read it and think, “Yes. That rings true.”
This whole book rings true. It’s superbly written and utterly original.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.