Catherine Chidgey (born 8 April 1970) is an award-winning New Zealand novelist and short-story writer. Her honours include the inaugural Prize in Modern Letters; the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship to Menton, France; Best First Book at both the New Zealand Book Awards and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region); the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize; and the Janet Frame Fiction Prize. She lives near Hamilton in New Zealand.
Catherine Chidgey was born in Auckland and grew up in the Hutt Valley. She attended St Michael's Primary School in Taita, and Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt. At Victoria University of Wellington she completed a BSc in Psychology, and a BA (First Class Honours) in German Language and Literature. In 1992 she won the Eichelbaum Prize for best overall student in the School of European Languages and Literature at Victoria University. In 1993 she was awarded a DAAD scholarship to study at the Freie Universität Berlin. She returned to Victoria University in 1997 to complete an MA in Creative Writing under Bill Manhire. This was awarded with Distinction, and the work she produced - an early version of her first novel - won the Adam Foundation Prize for the best portfolio that year.
Her debut novel, In a Fishbone Church, was published in 1998 and was widely praised in New Zealand and overseas, winning the Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction at the New Zealand Book Awards in 1998. The writer Nick Hornby said 'Catherine Chidgey is a wonderful new talent, and In a Fishbone Church marks the beginning of what promises to be a glorious literary career.' Louis de Bernières called the novel 'warm, subtle and evocative. You will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading.' In 1999 In a Fishbone Church won Best First Book at the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region). It also won a Betty Trask Award for a first book (UK), and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (UK).
Her second novel, Golden Deeds - a tale of murder, mystery and Meccano - was published in 2000, and was runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the 2000 New Zealand Book Awards. It was published by Picador in the UK and by Henry Holt in the US (under the title The Strength of the Sun), where it was a 2002 Notable Book of the Year in The New York Times Book Review, and a 2002 Best Book in the LA Times Book Review. The Times Literary Supplement called it '[m]agnanimous and merciless, a work reminiscent at times of darkest Atwood ... A witty and melancholy alchemy of heat and chill, a work of craft and fluency, which revitalizes the book in all its guises … for those who love books, Catherine Chidgey is a find.’ The Sunday Express called it 'a wonderful, gripping read. Human relations and needs are explored in all their complexity. Chidgey proves herself to be among that elite group of authors who possess a true grasp of the patterns of life.' The Independent on Sunday said the novel 'ensnares you, creeps up and snaffles you with its small, tense concerns. I could not stop thinking about it. I could not put it down … I finished Golden Deeds with that delicious and rare feeling: that I was in the presence of a proper, grown-up storyteller who cared not a toss for gimmicks or manifestoes, but dared instead to put her case with real authorial power and verve.'
The Transformation, Chidgey's third novel, was published in 2003, and that year she was named New Zealand's best novelist under forty. The book tells the story of a shadowy Parisian wig-maker who flees to Tampa, Florida in the 1890s. The Sunday Times said that 'Chidgey spins a horror story which, miraculously avoiding easy sensationalism, is both troubling and haunting', and the New Zealand Herald said it was ' ‘[h]er third and best so far … Chidgey could tackle any subject and produce something wonderful from it. She has that gift of the imagination that finds metaphor, contiguity and paradox wherever she looks, and a seemingly innate feel for structuring events, times and historical detail to make one whole, satisfying narrative out of a myriad unexpected parts.’ The Sunday Express remarked, 'This really is a novel to get lost in ... A highly original read, as beautiful as it is terrifying, which manages to be riotously chilling without ever going over the top.'
Her fourth novel, The Wish Child, set in Nazi Germany, was published in New Zealand in 2016 and was an instant bestseller, winning the 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards - the country's richest literary prize. Radio New Zealand called it 'a brilliant, brilliant novel ... a masterpiece'. The New Zealand Herald found it '[m]eticulously crafted and superbly written … provocative, haunting, intelligent and lyrical … breath-taking… It will stay with you long after you finish the final page.' The Sunday Star-Times commented 'Right from the first sentences I was caught up in the exquisite lure of the writing: musical, clear, lovingly tended. Nothing seems forced … I loved this book with its subterranean mysteries and spiky issues. I love the way, at this critical point in the world, when fundamental human values are violated, The Wish Child reminds us with grace and understated wisdom of a need to strive for universal good. I ached as I read. This novel is unmissable.' It was published in the UK in July 2017 by Chatto & Windus, with The Times calling it 'a remarkable book with a stunningly original twist'. In October 2018 Counterpoint will publish it in the US as a lead Fall title.
Her fifth book was released in November 2017. A 'found' novel, The Beat of the Pendulum was written during 2016, with Chidgey drawing on newspaper articles, Facebook posts, emails, radio broadcasts, books, street signs and conversations to create an entry for every day of the year. Radio New Zealand selected it as a Best Book of 2017, calling it 'Important in terms of its form as much as its content … sensationally clever writing … an enormously skilled writer who totally gets the craft'.
Awards and honours
- 1997 Adam Foundation Prize for In a Fishbone Church
- 1998 Todd New Writer’s Bursary
- 1998 Sargeson Fellowship
- 1999 Betty Trask Award for In a Fishbone Church
- 1999 Best First Book, Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region) for In a Fishbone Church
- 2001 Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship to Menton, France
- 2002 Prize in Modern Letters
- 2003 Writer in Residence, University of Canterbury
- 2005-6 Robert Burns Fellow, University of Otago
- 2008 Rathcoola Residency, County Cork, Ireland
- 2009 Writer in Residence, University of Waikato
- 2010 University of Otago Wallace Residency, The Pah Homestead, Auckland
- 2012 New Zealand Society of Authors Beatson Fellowship
- 2013 Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award for 'Reverse Living'
- 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for The Wish Child
- 2017 Janet Frame Fiction Prize
- 2018 International DUBLIN Literary Award (longlisted) for The Wish Child
- James F. English, The economy of prestige: prizes, awards, and the circulation of cultural value, pp. 315, Harvard University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-674-01884-2, ISBN 978-0-674-01884-6.
- "Catherine Chidgey's deeds win top award". The New Zealand Herald. 18 March 2002. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Janet Frame Fiction Prize 2017 to Catherine Chidgey | Booksellers New Zealand". www.booksellers.co.nz. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
- Catherine., Chidgey, (2000). In a fishbone church. London: Picador. ISBN 9780330371803. OCLC 42580322.
- Smith, Ali (15 September 2000). "The Stuff of Books". The Times Literary Supplement: 23.
- Hunt, Anna (24 September 2000). "Tales of isolation and connection". Sunday Express.
- Myerson, Julie (5 November 2000). "Refreshingly diffident". The Independent on Sunday.
- Carolyn Bain, George Dunford, Lonely Planet New Zealand, pp. 48, Lonely Planet, 2006, ISBN 1-74104-535-5, ISBN 978-1-74104-535-2.
- "The Transformation". The Sunday Times. 15 May 2005.
- "Catherine Chidgey: The Transformation". NZ Herald. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
- Groskop, Viv (1 May 2005). "Ghoulish Goulet shines in a hair-raising chiller". Sunday Express.
- "Winners | New Zealand Book Awards Trust". www.nzbookawards.nz. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
- "Book Review - The Wish Child | Nine To Noon, 10:38 am on 29 November 2016 | RNZ". Radio New Zealand. 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
- Christian, Dionne (17 December 2016). "Haunting and deeply evocative". The New Zealand Herald.
- Green, Paula (27 November 2016). "New work fulfils all our wishes". The Sunday Star-Times.
- Midgley, Carol. "One surrogate, one donor, three modern families". Retrieved 2017-07-21.
- "A Year Found: A conversation with Catherine Chidgey". Pantograph Punch. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
- "NZ Books Review - Best of 2017". 24 January 2018. Retrieved 14 June 2018.