In a neat piece of serendipity, Chad Taylor's fourth novel Electric, set around the 1998 Auckland power black out, was published in February 2003 - almost five years to the day since that cataclysmic event which changed the face of the Queen City CBD forever.
"It was really democratic," says Taylor. "It was not like a cartoon or a movie where everything goes dark. It was really organic - more like a twilight. You'd have some places that had no power but [there would be] power right next door, and that was really interesting. It was a really weird time to be in town... The power would come back on at night because the main drain on electricity was during the day, to all the offices. It killed so many businesses in Auckland..."
Electric is Taylor's second book to be published by an international imprint after his previous novel, Shirker was released through cult Scottish publishers Canongate. Taylor has since followed other former Canongate authors Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner by moving to Jonathan Cape, who in record company terms would be deemed a major label. Since hitting the shelves in Britain earlier this year Electric has been lauded by publications like leading London listing magazine Time Out, who made it their book of the week.
Unfortunately, Taylor has remained a mystery for many New Zealand critics who can't see past the main characters' incessant drug binges. Unlike most Kiwi novelists who favour writing about this country's harsh rural landscape, Taylor's work is mainly set in Auckland's urban metropolis during the wee small hours when people do shady things like attend nightclubs. "When I started writing, I wanted to write about the city and the night," says Taylor. "[The places where people go at night... are the places where things are likely to happen. At night, you get a bit out of it; you meet people you wouldn't normally meet. It's interesting - you just want to go into these little dark places and find things that are happening."
But while Taylor has grown wary of interviewers constantly asking him about his own supposed drug-taking, announcing in his web-log that "the questions about drugs don't work", Electric is right on the money in the eerie way that its characters' speed-based drug habits mirror New Zealand's current P (aka Pure or Crystal Meth) epidemic. "At the time of writing speed - snorting methamphetamine as opposed to smoking pure meth - was coming to prominence as the new drug of choice. It became part of the characters' background, living as they do in Auckland. I was worried that maybe places like the Normandy and the Sky Room and even the party at the end of the novel might seem far fetched but reality has caught up with and even overtaken the images in the novel."
– Stephen Jewell, Spacific, 2003
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