Self publishing

Tasting the Strange



Tasting the Strange

Vita (Victoria) has ‘goldfish’ red hair and is bedridden. The child of a career scientist and an English pianist, she has a damaged heart. Unable to go outside, let alone go to school, she develops her own fantasy world of pirates and brigands.

After a life-saving operation, Vita slowly and painfully tries to be ‘normal’. She struggles with school and finds acceptance with school friend, Louise.

This coming of age story takes Vita on a drug-fuelled trip to Afghanistan to find her ‘father’ and enlightenment. Through her childhood ‘boy-next-door’ friend Bob and her relationship with Louise she comes to understand love.

About the author

Robin Fleming was born in 1942. She went to Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, and later studied at Victoria University, completing her MA in 1964. During the 1970s, Robin worked as a photographer, and later returned to university to complete a PhD in anthropology.

During the 1980s Robin worked as a social researcher and policy analyst in the Departments of Health, Internal Affairs, and Women’s Affairs while carrying out funded social research projects on a part-time basis. After 1993, she retired from social policy and research to focus on writing, gaining an MA in creative writing at the IIML, Victoria University, Wellington.

Robin has three children and five grand-children. She lives with her partner on the Kapiti Coast.

Tasting the Strange, A novel by Robin Fleming

Reviewed by Terry Kennaway

This perceptive account of a young girl’s journey from helpless invalid - her life controlled by elderly relatives - to adventurous young woman, embracing freedom and autonomy will capture the reader from the first page.

Born with a serious heart condition, throughout her childhood, Vita knows only her bedroom and the view from the window. Her one friend, a boy of similar age, treats her as a normal girl and gives Vita the beginnings of awareness of life beyond her room. To help fill the void from the isolation of her life, Vita invents a fantasy friend and mentor, “Birdwoman”. Birdwoman is very wise and comforting in times of distress, with feathers vibrant and beautiful – a contrast to Vita’s drab surroundings.

Cared for by her grandmother and aunt, Vita feels her mother’s devotion to her work as a scientist seems greater than devotion to her daughter. Vita has never met her father and feels bitter resentment at his absence and her mother’s refusal to reveal who he is or anything about him.

Vita fears the prospect of heart surgery, but it is that which finally sets her free. Robin Fleming has captured with great insight and understanding, Vita’s struggles to adapt, as she enters a world in which she is a stranger, bewildered by the rules of society. It is only, as a young woman, that she truly breaks free and tastes the strange.

Vita’s journey from Paris to Kandahar, in a battered and unreliable green bus, with a bunch of drugged up hippies, is a trip of pure delight for the reader. Their adventures good and bad are so well written, the reader can almost feel the dust and heat, taste the exotic foods and smell the tantalising whiffs of herbs and spices in the bazaars.

This is a warm and gentle tale, difficult to put down and leaving memories that seem almost real.

~ Terry Kennaway, Waikanae

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