When John Summers moved to a small town in the Wairarapa and began to look closely at the less-celebrated aspects of local life – our club rooms, freezing works, night trains, hotel pubs, landfills – he saw something deeper. It was a story about his own life, but mostly about a place and its people. The story was about life and death in New Zealand.
Combining reportage and memoir, The Commercial Hotel is a sharp-eyed, poignant yet often hilarious tour of Aotearoa: a place in which Arcoroc mugs and dog-eared political biographies are as much a part of the scenery as the hills we tramp through ill-equipped. We encounter Elvis impersonators, the eccentric French horn player and adventurer Bernard Shapiro, Norman Kirk balancing timber on his handlebars while cycling to his building site, and Summers’s grandmother: the only woman imprisoned in New Zealand for protesting World War Two. And we meet the ghosts who haunt our loneliest spaces.
As he follows each of his preoccupations, Summers reveals to us a place we have never quite seen before.
‘Clever, funny, boundlessly curious, The Commercial Hotel is a dazzling New Zealand opportunity shop, floor to ceiling with lost books and impossible treasures, railways and eels, ghosts and daydreams.’ —Toby Manhire