The Shingle Bar Sea Monster and Other Stories, by Laura Solomon (Proverse Hong Kong, 2012), 200 pp., USD 22.00.
Realism is the meat and two veg of New Zealand fiction: thick, chunky and nourishing. In our country, we have dozens of realisms: mimetic realism, critical realism, social realism, socialist realism … well, maybe not socialist realism, but we certainly do capitalist realism.
How about magic realism? That’s a murkier case. Wryly defined by Gene Wolfe as ‘fantasy written by people who speak Spanish’, magic realism lurks near the boundary between realistic and fantastic literature, looking for ways to tunnel through, now on this side, now on that, an exotic and elusive particle. It’s not real realism, really, is it? It’s not the sort of thing on which the canon of New Zealand literature is built. It’s not the sort of thing we write.
Except that Laura Solomon does.
Attempting to improve on Gene Wolfe feels like lèse-majesté, but I’m going to try. I think magic realism can be distinguished from the broader stream of fantasy because the typical premise of a magic realist story is that an event that is not rationalised takes place in a story which is otherwise set in the world of realist fiction. In contrast, in most fantastic literature, the world of the story is itself non-realist.