My Father's Island: A Memoir
This is very, very good: a fascinating insight into the highly regarded literary editor Robin Dudding from the perspective of his son Adam. Editor, journalist, founder of the important and respected literary magazine Islands (1972-1988), editor of Landfall (1966-1972) and Mate (1957-1966), Robin Dudding played a pivotal role in the development of New Zealand writing and the publishing landscape, giving many of our well-known authors exposure, opportunities and feedback. This is a memoir: personal, telling and searching, critical yet affectionate, candid and laced with wit, sadness, anger and admiration. It is a story of a brilliant mind and an important influence in New Zealand’s writing culture throughout the 60s & 70s and reveals Robin Dudding’s struggles both literally, the family lived in abject poverty throughout much of the 1970s, and psychologically, reflecting Dudding’s dilemmas and frustrations with the literary establishment and his obsession with his calling, often to the detriment of his family and marriage. And it is more than this, it is an insight into being a child in this bohemian family of six children (Adam is the youngest) through the 1970s and 80s, of living in run-down houses and makeshift fixes, of not having quite the right shoes, yet being at the elbow of his father, guided in the language of the editor, being immersed in a world of erudite ideas and fascinating people. Adam Dudding doesn’t romanticise anything in his account: it is brutally honest and he doesn’t shy away from telling it as it was. His father’s anger and self-destructive behaviours, especially throughout the 80s when a teenage Adam witnessed Robin’s callous behaviour toward Lois, his wife, and his general disappointment with life, had a profoundly negative effect on the family and on Robin's relationships with those closest to him. Adam Dudding has interviewed family, colleagues and writers, pulling together loose threads, interesting anecdotes and remarkable insights, mostly getting to the nub of matters but the 'truth' doesn't always out. As Dudding himself points out memory isn't always reliable (Adam recalling a childhood memory, realizes, while editing his book, that it's not quite as he remembered) and sometimes there is a tendency to be elusive, willfully forgetting, raising more questions than answers. The delights in this memoir come from its very personal nature, its clarity of thought, honesty in the headlights of the unpleasant, and Adam Dudding’s ability to write a gripping, fascinating tale about his father.
After the death of his brilliant, eccentric father, Adam Dudding went in search of the stories and secrets of a man who had been a loving parent and husband, but was also a tormented, controlling and at times cruel man.
Robin Dudding was the greatest New Zealand literary editor of his generation - friend and mentor of many of our best-known writers. At his peak he published the country's finest literary journal on the smell of an oily rag from a falling-down house overflowing with books, long-haired children and chickens - an island of nonconformity in the heart of 1970s Auckland suburbia. Yet when Robin's uncompromising integrity tipped into something much more self-destructive, a dark shadow fell over his career and personal life. In My Father's Island, Adam Dudding writes frankly about the rise and fall of an unconventional cultural figure. But this is also a moving, funny and deeply personal story of a family, of a marriage, of feuds and secret loves - and of a son's dawning understanding of his father. Robin Dudding would have been proud of Adam for writing this book - but maybe he would also have been horrified.
My Father's Island is an important piece of social and cultural history, seen through the lens of a family tale that is - paradoxically - both compassionate and merciless. This is a wonderfully well-told story of a life that starts out full of hope, then goes to troubling places. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, etc. And then it wasn't. -Bill Manhire
Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction Finalist - Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2017.
Adam Dudding is a reporter for Fairfax Media and has won numerous feature-writing awards. He lives in Auckland with his wife, two children, two dogs and no chickens. This is his first book.