BARBARA PETRIE is a poet and novelist born and raised in New Zealand...
She has two published books of poetry:
Farrow Night and Priscilla Scales and Other Cautionary Tales (for children).
Her poetry has been published in journals and newspapers in New Zealand and Australia.
While based in Australia she edited a number of poetry anthologies, wrote and directed several plays and worked as a theatrical performer and writer. She has a Bachelor of Music Degree (UWS).
Books edited are:
Kiwi & Emu, An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Australian and New Zealand Women, copies of which were sent from Australia as a Sesqicentennial gift to New Zealand. Other books include collections of the poetry of the Blue Mountains, NSW.
The Seer's Wolf Barbara's first novel and is available for purchase right here on our very own bookshelf.
Read on for reviews, a synopsis and a preview of this intriguing work of fiction.
The Seer’s Wolf Reviews . . .
From 'New Zealand Books, a quarterly review'
The first thing to say about Barbara Petrie's The Seer’s Wolf, given the description on its cover – “A mysterious and intriguing story about a werewolf in rural 1950s New Zealand”
* is that it is not, in fact, about a werewolf...
The book's "werewolf" is Ralph Randal, master tailor, a recent immigrant with his family from England to Loam, on the Canterbury plains. Ralph suffers from variegate porphyria, and his symptoms make him seem wolf-like. Indeed, in the book's concluding pages, Ralph's hallucinations have him believing he is a wolf. But a werewolf he is not, and the project of sending us looking for one, only to disappoint, is a central part of the book's project.
Though the book treads the boundaries of the supernatural - one of the characters is young Clover, who seems to be able to perceive the thoughts of others, and sees things happening before they do – it is, in fact, much more interested in the amazing strangeness of the mundane. We look for werewolves, where really there are fascinating medical intrigues, social drama, complex psychologies and relationships. We wonder about people's bodies changing into wolves, whereas just as strange are bodies that do (and don’t) bleed on a monthly cycle, or develop illnesses and respond (or not) to herbal and physical remedies.
There are many secrets, locks and mysteries in the book, and many of them remain undiscovered, unopened, or unsolved. The book's focus is on oddities, irregularities and outliers, such as Ralph and his daughter Satina's porphyria, as well as their semi-incestuous relationship. The book is littered with odd characters who remain undeveloped - Tweed Simpson, the old man obsessed with Princess Margaret, is a good example. Many of these are introduced through Clover’s misguided hunt for a werewolf, and the scenes are generally quite good ones, though there is a kind of frustration that builds up, reading such scenes one after another, once it becomes clear that they are not helping advance the narrative at all.
The book even eschews ordinary ideas of "narrative", as if they, too, are an artificial imposition on what, if we just paid attention to it, is the incredible ordinary. The book gets so focused on details, and the details are themselves so interesting to the characters, that they function not to further, but to distract from, the story. And this, I think, is the book's project - to offer us a generically exciting story ("look! A werewolf!"), and then teach us that what's really interesting, what we should really pay attention to, is not such narrative at all, but rather the details of everyday life.
There's a lot of "wondering" by the book's characters, especially wondering what will happen. ln a sense, the book is getting its characters to do the work of the reader - after all, the question "what will happen next?" is the question that keeps us reading. Foregrounding characters wondering like this makes visible for readers the way that our focus on and desire for "narrative" artificially limits what we will find interesting and/or wonderful.
The book's closing prose reaches for a kind of poignancy or transcendence, but misses. "Going
to the mountains" is, throughout the book, Ralph's fantasy for him and his daughter, the ever-postponed perfect moment he longs for. (Spoiler alert.) So, after he kills her, in the depths of his hallucinations, he of course sets off for the mountains where, increasingly exhausted, starving, and sleep-deprived, as well as still suffering hallucinations, he is eventually killed when he falls into the Crow river and is carried along the Waimakariri, all the way to the beach, where Clover finds him:
Ralph Randal, late of Great Britain, was in the jaws of that treacherous animal, the flooding Waimakariri River, its long throat rather Now she [the river] danced him about in a series of bobbing movements, she cut, she bruised, battered him to the accompaniment of her swollen choir.
All in all, it's an intriguing novel, full of wonderful scenes and characters, compellingly making its case against narrative- but, for that reason, perhaps deliberately, quite unsatisfying to read.
From 'New Zealand Books, a quarterly review'...Volume 26; Number 2; Issue 114; Winter 2016.
Review by Simon Hay...
Author of 'A History of the Modern British Ghost Story'
"Wow. I've never read a young adult book quite like this, but I'm sure there will be readers out there itching for a book which combines human foibles with fantasy"...
The Seer’s Wolf follows two families in a rural Canterbury (NZ) community: the Fairlies, well established as farmers – practical, down-to-earth, sensitive – and the Randalls, recent arrivals just emigrated from England, who bring a curious lifestyle to the community, keeping to themselves.
Clover Fairlie, the seer of the title, keeps a journal of visions, events and imaginings, and begins noticing more and more of the strange ways of the Randalls, her mother, and the young cattle drover. She notices the closeness between Ralph Randall and his eighteen year old daughter Satina, whom he calls Arkie.
Winding through the simple tale are threads of home-made herbal remedies, magic mushrooms, frustrated yearnings, the mauling of stock, floods and rescues, and shocking disasters. The quick ‘tidy-up’ of the ending seemed to leave something vaguely unresolved, but a thorough reading and retracing characters dismisses that.
At the beginning I found Clover’s journal read like something from Enid Blyton, but the author gets a grip on Clover’s voice, her visions come under the author’s control and are more believable.
Ms Petrie’s ‘Note To The Reader’ is almost a spoiler, coming before the Table of Contents. So skip it – go straight to page 11, the first page of the story itself." - Lynne
Source: Flaxroots productions
"A mysterious and intriguing story about a werewolf in rural 1950s New Zealand. Petrie’s writing is original and startling..."
IT IS 1952 and strange events are taking place in Loam, a small settlement in rural Canterbury, New Zealand.
Ralph Randal, his wife Irena and their three daughters have immigrated to the area from England, but as they settle in, the curiosity of Clover, a neighbouring farm girl is aroused.
An air of mystery surrounds the English family, and Ralph Randal appears to dote excessively on his lovely eighteen- year-old daughter, Satina.
Meanwhile young drover Arlo Reed turns heads, and as a flooding river follows its old course, the tortured bond between Ralph and Satina frays.
What is really happening to cause an unsettling shadow of gloom to enshroud the community?
Review by Tina Shaw, novelist.
Read the opening two chapters of The Seer's Wolf with this sneaky preview below: