Portrayal of 1960s NZ family life bang on

HOW TO STOP A HEART FROM BEATING <br> <b> Jackie Ballantyne
HOW TO STOP A HEART FROM BEATING <br> <b> Jackie Ballantyne
Jackie Ballantyne

I have been recommending this book to all and sundry.

It is beautifully crafted, introduces a cast of believable and interesting characters, has an intriguing plot, plenty of humour and a most unexpected ending.

How to Stop a Heart from Beating is one of those rare novels which leaves you satisfied but still wanting more. Yes, that combination is possible. Somehow, Ballantyne, an Australian now living and working in Dunedin, has captured exactly the nuances and language of family life in sleepy-hollow New Zealand circa 1960s.

Her central character, the endearing 9-year-old Solange, is the middle child between two sets of twins and a loner comfortable in her own world. When she visits the local cemetery and finds out there are people buried in unmarked paupers' graves - which she mishears as ''porpoise graves'' - she decides to give each grave occupant a story, a time of death and a cause of death.

As Solly concocts her stories, the secrets engulfing her family unfold around her. Being only 9 she cannot unravel them all, and her innocence and coping mechanisms for what is happening gives this book much of its charm.

The book is set in South Otago. I immediately pictured the location as Owaka, and Jack's Blowhole as the site of the ominous ''spinny pools''. And I could clearly visualise Solly's family's seaside crib with its basic ablutions and many home-made additions.

How to Stop a Heart from Beating would make a terrific movie. By the time I had finished reading I had cast almost all of the characters - Solly, her older brothers and their friends, Mum, Doug, Aunty Lal, Maggie, the delightful Mrs Gorsey and, of course, misunderstood Reg.


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