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Shooting the Moon, VM Jones

July 4, 2011

Shooting the Moon, Book Blurb

“Pip McLeod faced up to some tough challenges in the award-winning Juggling with Mandarins... but that wasn’t the end of the story.

At 14 Pip’s life is finally his own. His domineering dad is focusing his ambitions on big brother Nick, and as for Pip’s climbing – his passion in life – he’s going one way… up. Even his love life’s finally sorted: he hasn’t got one.

Beneath the tranquil surface currents are stirring, but Pip is wrapped up in his own emotions, oblivious to the new forces undermining everything he believes indestructible.

When Pip heads into the wilderness with Dad on the traditional McLeod first hunting trip he faces dramatic choice and discovers what it means to confront issues of life and death… and, threatened by the ultimate loss, learns what matters most of all.

V.M. JONES lives in Christchurch with her husband and two sons. Her first two novels, Buddy and Juggling with Mandarins, have each won NZ Post Junior Fiction awards, and her fantasy adventure series The Karazan Quartet has been published internationally and translated into five languages.”

from the back cover of V.M. Jones (2006) Shooting the Moon. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

Shooting the MoonFirst Page

“The Valentine’s Ball

‘You’re grounded!’ roared Dad.

‘But Dad -‘

‘Don’t you But Dad me! A girl doesn’t give a boy a black eye for no reason – and at your age the reason isn’t hard to guess. That’s it! Grounded! Period! Do you hear me?’ The words puffed out at me through the open car window, misty in the frosty air. They might look harmless, but they weren’t. This was Dad, and he was mad at me, and his words were as lethal as bullets. And, like bullets, they carried clear across the carpark to where the seniors were lounging in the shadow of the auditorium, enjoying an illicit cigarette before heading home.

A cherry glowed red in the darkness and a mocking voice echoed: ‘But Daddy…’

Jordan Archer – the very last person I wanted to think about. I slid into the passenger seat, rolled up the window and risked a sidelong glance at Dad, glowering in the driver’s seat. Though my eye was swollen almost shut, I could read the signs. His mouth was invisible under his bushy black moustache, but his sandpaper-stubbled jaw was clenched, his black hair sticking up in angry tufts. The collar of his Homer Simpson PJs stuck up jauntily above the frayed V of his gardening pullover, pulled on for the drive, but there was nothing jaunty about the look on his face. There was no point arguing or trying to explain.

‘Dad,’ I said, ‘can we go home?'”

p5 V.M. Jones (2006) Shooting the Moon. HarperCollins Publishers: Auckland

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Shooting the Moon:

Community/ relationships/ character:

As well as all the usual questions to put to a text, Shooting the Moon invites an analysis into the relationships that seem to drive the story: 

– What characters are there in Pip’s community?

– How are they described? Which characters are described more fully? What role does each play in Pip’s social world?

– Are these characters agentic? Do their choices/actions influence the storyline? (Nick’s and Pip’s Dad’s actions, for example, seem to have a lot of influence on the flow of events – and are considered thoughtfully by the narrator/protagonist – but what of Katie, Beattie, Lee etc.?)

– What (emotional, social, internal, physical, financial, …) strengths/resources does the protagonist, Pip have to draw on? Which of these resources prove most necessary when it is a matter of life and death? (I am thinking that Pip’s climbing proved essential to his ability to rescue his father – and that this was something he chose for himself, rather than to please his father)

– Certain characters are aligned so naturally with each other that they invite comparisons to be better understood: for example, compare Nick and Pip… Pip’s mother and father… Rob and Pip’s Dad… Katie and Beattie… Pip and Lee…

How are we invited to feel about Pip’s Dad? About Nick? Why? What language/ narrative aspects lead us to such a response?

– Consider how often ‘time‘ is mentioned – and how it is described/used.  Time seems to take on an entirely subjective presence that is tied into the relationships between the protagonist and those around him (“Mum wanted this to be Dad’s time, man’s time” (p205), “This time was mine” (p210), “family was all that mattered at times like these” (p243), etc.)

– there is, I think, an importance placed on individual decision-making as a path to adulthood.  Pip’s choice not to kill the deer is a defining moment in the novel – described by himself in these terms: “Some men might need to kill to come of age. Not me. For me, the moment of clarity when I knew the only shot I’d ever take was with a camera… that was the moment I’d become a man: my own man, the only kind I ever wanted to be.” (pp223-224)

Horace, the taxidermied stag head on Nick’s wall (the symbol of his adulthood) is starting to fall apart and has marijuana stuffed up his nose. There is an easy symbolism here, but it is worth considering! Horace stands in obvious contrast with the stag that Pip ‘shoots’ only with a camera. Nick and Pip’s father cannot at first accept that Pip could not shoot the deer – and falls over a cliff as a result.  However, Pip proves his manliness and the novel concludes with Pip’s choice not to kill being accepted by his parents – when they gift him with a framed copy of that photo)

Narrative structure:

Narrative structure is often a hidden factor in the telling of the story.  Nothing leaps out as particularly unique in this tale – and that in itself makes the structure worth analysing:

– How does this novel start? And end? (I am thinking that the first line is a disciplinary growling by Pip’s father – and that ‘love’ gets the final mention, for example)

– What are the criteria of relevance applied to this story? Why, for example, do we not hear more about Pip’s mother? About Nick’s ‘lover’? About Rob, who proves to be the most reliable adult in Pip’s life for much of the novel?

– what does the linearity of this story imply about ‘actions and consequences’ or ‘growing up’? What does it imply about relationships?

– How are events arranged in this novel?  Jerome Bruner writes that one of the properties of narrative, “perhaps its principal property is its inherent sequentiality: a narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, happenings involving human beings as characters or actors.  These are its constituents.  But these constituents do not, as it were, have a life or meaning of their own.  Their meaning is given by their place in the overall configuration of the sequence as a whole – its plot….” (43 folk psychology as an instrument of culture)

What is this story about?

It might be interesting to look at how this text has been received and ‘read’ by others. Consider, for example, what Miss Roberts of Mary MacKillop Library writes“This is a beautifully written story about rites of passage, friendship, brothers and family. From triumph, hardship and disaster the McLeod family battle their demons, emotions and insecurities, until they finally come to accept themselves, each other and to express their love for one another.  V.M. Jones has written a sensitive sequel to Juggling with mandarins, where Pip has to confront life and death issues and comes to understand what matters most of all.”  In what ways exactly is this a text about ‘rites of passage’? ‘friendship’? ‘brothers and family’? What triumphs, hardships and disasters are dealt with and why are these made the focus of such a short review? Is this what the story was ‘about’ for you?

To be continued…

Texts that invite comparison

Hunting Elephants by James Roy (in terms of family relationships, hidden traumas, understanding others, perceptions of physical skill and gendering) (Check out Random House’s downloadable Teaching Support Kit for Hunting Elephants)

To be continued…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas. 

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Jones’ Shooting the Moon: a History

Awards won:

None as yet, though it was a finalist in the 2007 New Zealand Post fiction awards.

Publishing History:

First published in 2006 by Harper Collins, Shooting the Moon carries on the story of Pip McLeod which Jones started in her award-winning Juggling with Mandarins.

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • Teaching online have made notes for a classroom unit (freely available online)
  • It might be worth looking at the Juggling with Mandarins Teachers’ Notes by Harper Collins (freely available download) to add context…
  • English online recommends Shooting the Moon for reading with years 9 and 10
  • There are a number of interviews and reviews around the place (eg, but little academic research has been applied to Jones’s work as yet (4 July 2011).

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing VM Jones

VM Jones

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