First novel's top spot humbles writer

23:33, Aug 26 2014
Thom Conroy
NATURAL FRONTRUNNER: Thom Conroy, author of new novel The Naturalist has made number one on the NZ fiction list.

Thom Conroy has stepped onto the No 1 fiction spot in New Zealand this week with his novel The Naturalist, while Eleanor Catton takes a gracious step off the pedestal after holding her own for 54 weeks.

Conroy’s first novel went on booksellers’ shelves last week and the Manawatu author said being on top of the Nielsen weekly booksellers list for adult fiction was an unexpected outcome.

‘‘That’s for sure. Seeing your name on the spine of a book is a privilege no matter how it sells. To know so many people are interested, it is satisfying, but it’s also deeply humbling. Inevitably, you begin to worry that the fruits of your labour won’t live up to expectations.’’ 

Conroy’s novel follows the story of Dr Ernst Dieffenbach – a liberal-minded free-spirited 19th century German physician, geologist and naturalist who studied New Zealand’s wildlife, plants and people.

Conroy did extensive research into the man  who was fluent in Maori and considered all races to be equal.

‘‘One goal I had in The Naturalist was to convey a sense of my own affection for New Zealand’s natural world alongside Dieffenbach’s. I walked in many of the same places that Ernst walked, and it goes without saying that most of them have changed dramatically.’’


The Naturalistnf is experiencing good sales in Palmerston North and Bruce McKenzie, owner of Bruce McKenzie Booksellers, said the book was selling well and there was plenty of interest.

‘‘I am personally enjoying the book very much. I had very little knowledge of the period the book is set, but it is interesting.’’

Reviews are beginning to come in on Conroy’s novel and he said he was pleased that Ernst Dieffenbach was getting some attention and recognition.

‘‘Over the years of writing this project, the historical figure and the fictional character have begun to merge into some strange new being made of equal parts fact and imagination.

"In a historical novel, you always walk a fine line between balancing the research and the story, and I think some reviewers have taken purely imagined aspects of The Naturalist as historical fact.’’

Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries.  

Manawatu Standard