David Coventry


210mm x 138mm
Publication date:
13 June 2024

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Performance is a self-portrait like no other. David Coventry takes us into his experience of ME, a debilitating systemic disease which took hold in March 2013 but has roots in his childhood.

For Coventry, ME radically overturns the rules of time, thought and embodiment – an experience which has shaped the writing of this book. Through an illuminating blend of life transcription and deep imaginative projection, he shows how placing fiction into the stories of our damaged lives can remind us of who we are and who we might have been, even when so much of us has been taken away by illness. 

From a mountaineering disaster in Kaikōura to a literary encounter in Austria, a country mansion to a volcanic archipelago, this novel is a strikingly vivid, at times disorienting series of journeys, stopovers and emergencies that take in the world, one in which Coventry is often an outsider, even when at home in Wellington. With purposeful unreliability and flashes of humour amid pain and searching, Performance takes us into a space where ‘reading’ itself fails as a description of how we meet the text. This is a generous, unforgettable vista of life within illness.

‘Like all great art, Performance defies paraphrase. This novel is a staggeringly ambitious work that few writers or scholars could conceive and probably only one could enact. It locates David Coventry in a genealogy of modern and postmodern writers including Virginia Woolf and Thomas Bernhard, whose illness intelligence is part of what makes their work innovative, important, and unforgettable.’ —Martha Stoddard Holmes, author of Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victoria Culture

‘A masterpiece of narrative disintegration with a deep psychic grip on the reader – a book whose design not infrequently had me exhaling in both profound affect and aesthetic astonishment. A monumental achievement.’
—Tracey Slaughter, author of Devil’s Trumpet and Conventional Weapons

'Compelling, thoughtful, memorable, suitably frustrating and disconcerting. It is a unique contribution to the literature of illness.' —Thomas Koed, Volume Books

'Performance is a mesmerising and at times beautiful read, albeit tragic . . . The reader too feels a sense falling into Coventry’s world as they read this extraordinary book.' —Alyson Baker

David Coventry’s first novel, The Invisible Mile, won the Hubert Church Award for Best First Book at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. It was also published in the UK and Commonwealth by Picador UK, and the USA and Canada by Europa Editions. It has been translated into Dutch, Hebrew, Spanish, Danish and German. His second novel, Dance Prone, was published in 2020. David received an MA in Creative Writing in 2010 from the International Institute of Modern Letters, and he was the recipient of the 2015 Todd New Writer’s Bursary from Creative New Zealand. In 2022 he completed his PhD exploring the complexities and impossibilities of living a creative life with ME/CFS – a project which was selected for the 2022 Dean’s List, and forms the basis of Performance (2024). He was the 2022 Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury.

Cover photograph: Henry Coventry, Tararua Lodge Fire, Mt Ruapehu, 8 August 1954
Cover design: Simon Waterfield

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