This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure if this book was quite a 5★, but a day later & I’m still thinking about both the book & the subject matter so…
Fiona Kidman is one of New Zealand’s most respected fiction writers. From her bio on Goodreads;
Much of her fiction is focused on how outsiders navigate their way in narrowly conformist society.
Perfect description of this book – & of 1950’s New Zealand society.
Young Irishman Albert “Paddy” Black
emigrates to New Zealand as a “Ten Pound Pom” – an immigrant who receives an assisted passage to New Zealand. Kidman’s interpretation has Black as happy in his new country at first, but he soon becomes homesick and he leaves Lower Hutt & the good friend he has made to chase better pay in our biggest city. Black becomes a caretaker for an inner city boarding house. Johnny McBride (real name Alan Jacques)
Is bigger, meaner & (Black believes) older than Albert, and he forces his way into the boarding house. Things come to a head and after a severe beating at Jacques’ hands & provocation at a milk bar, Black stabs Jacques in the neck. Against the odds, the stabbing proves fatal and Black is arrested.
“This Mortal Boy” is in all kinds of trouble. His new Auckland friends desert him, he is up against prejudice against youth, new immigrants – & the Minister of Justice “Gentleman Jack” Marshall. Marshall was a great contradiction -gentle and charming in his manner, but a hardcore proponent of the death penalty.
I wasn’t around in 1955, but I do remember Marshall from later in his career (He was briefly the New Zealand Prime Minister) as one of the most honorable NZ politicians.
Poor “Paddy” never stood a chance. He was the second to last person hanged in NZ. His death and the cruel way his mother was denied permission to visit NZ to farewell her son, caused an outcry and the death penalty as a punishment for murder was abolished in 1957.
Kidman’s writing style is literary, thoughtful and reflective. She does a good job of showing the contradictions in New Zealand society of the time. I’m not totally convinced by her interpretation of Black’s character, but I was still fascinated.