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Knox, Elizabeth 1959-

Knox, Elizabeth 1959-

(Elizabeth Fiona Knox)


Born February 15, 1959, in Wellington, New Zealand; daughter of Ray (a journalist) and Heather (a librarian) Knox; married Fergus Barrowman (a publisher), 1989; children: Jack. Education: Victoria University, B.A., 1986.


Home—Wellington, New Zealand. Agent—Natasha Fair-weather, A.P. Watt, Ltd., 20 John St., London WC1N 2DR, England.


Writer. Sport (magazine), assistant editor, 1988-93; Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, tutor in film studies, 1989-95; worked variously as a clerk, printer, insurance underwriter, computer operator, editor, Web page editor, publicity officer, and shop assistant. Writer-in-residence at Victoria University of Wellington, 1997.

Awards, Honors

PEN award, 1988, for After Z-Hour; PEN fellowship, 1991; New Zealand Book Award nomination for Treasure; Queen Elizabeth II scholarship in letters, 1993; writing fellowship, Victoria University, 1997; Montana New Zealand Book Awards' Deutz Medal for Fiction, Readers' Choice award, Booksellers' Choice Award, and Orange Prize shortlist, all 1999, and Tasmania Pacific Region Prize, 2001, and Prix Ville de Saumur shortlist, all for The Vintner's Luck; Katherine Mans-field writing fellowship, 1999; Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award, 2000, 2002; named officer, New Zealand Order of Merit, 2002; ICI young writers bursary; Deutz Medal for Fiction shortlist, 2002, for Billie's Kiss; Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book in the South Pacific and South East Asian Region shortlist, 2004, for Daylight.


After Z-Hour, Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1987.

Paremata (first novel in "High Jump" trilogy; also see below), Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1989.

Treasure, Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1992.

Pomare (second novel in "High Jump" trilogy; also see below), Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1994.

Glamour and the Sea, Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1996.

Tawa (third novel in "High Jump" trilogy; also see below), Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 1998.

The Vintner's Luck, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

The High Jump: A New Zealand Childhood (contains Paremata, Pomare, and Tawa), Victoria University Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 2000.

Black Oxen, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001.

Billie's Kiss, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2002.

Daylight, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2003.

Dreamhunter (first volume in "Dreamhunter Duet"), HarperCollins (Wellington, New Zealand), 2005, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2006.

Dreamquake (second volume in "Dreamhunter Duet"), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to Privacy: The Art of Julia Morrison (Jonathan Jensen Gallery), 1994; and Cherries on a Plate: New Zealand Writers Talk about Their Sisters, edited by Marilyn Duckworth, Random House, 1996. Short stories represented in anthologies, including Now See Hear!, edited by Ian Wedde and Gregory Burke, Victoria University Press, 1990; Soho Square 4, edited by Bill Manhire, Bloomsbury, 1991; Pleasures and Dangers, edited by Wystan Curnow and Trish Clark, Moet & Chandon/Longman Paul, 1992; Into the Field of Play, edited by Lloyd Jones, Tandem, 1992; and The Picador Anthology of Contemporary New Zealand Fiction, edited by Fergus Barrowman, Picador, 1996. Author of screenplay The Dig, 1994. Contributor to periodicals, including Landfall, Metro, New Zealand Listener, Sport, and Stout Centre Review.


The Vintner's Luck was adapted for film by Nicky Caro.


New Zealand writer Elizabeth Knox is known for creating novels and stories that feature intricate plots, detailed settings, and elements of mystery and the supernatural. While she first became known for adult novels such as After Z-Hour, Black Oxen, and The Vintner's Luck, more recent novels such as Billie's Kiss and her "Dreamhunter Duet" fantasy sequence have proved popular with more sophisticated teen readers. Critics have referred to Knox's prose as intense and poetic, while her themes, according to a Contemporary Novelists essayist, reflect "the human groping for understanding in a world that often defies comprehension … and the eventual connections between people that ultimately give meaning to life despite the distances between them."

In After Z-Hour an abandoned house becomes the central location from which six characters experience hauntings of both a supernatural and psychological nature. In examining the house guests' memories, as well as the memories of a dead soldier who now haunts the building, Knox illustrates "how the horrors of the past, whether personal or national, both inform and allow passage into the future."

The first of Knox's novels to be published in the United States, The Vintner's Luck takes place in nineteenth-century France, as winemaker Sobran Jodeau is visited by the angel Xas and the two develop an intense friendship. Arranging for their annual reunion, Sobran hopes that Xas will become his guardian angel. For his part, however, the powerful yet sensual Xas has no desire to guide; instead the angel takes on the roles of friend, lover, and storyteller, causing Sobran's earthly relationships to seem inconsequential by contrast. In the New York Times, Richard Bernstein deemed The Vintner's Luck a "sophisticated, supernaturally tinged mystery," and Megan Harlan wrote in Entertainment Weekly that Knox's "imagistic" novel explores "the spiritual worth of sensual pleasure."

Dubbed "magic realism noir," Daylight draws readers to southern France, where the vacation of an Australian cop is disrupted by an unusual discovery. The body of a drowned woman found nearby reminds Brian Phelan of a woman he met years earlier, and sets him on a search that involves a soon-to-be sainted member of the Italian Resistance, a literary scholar, and a 200-year-old vampire. Praised as an "illuminating tour-de-force" by a Publishers Weekly contributor, Daylight also drew comparisons to The Vintner's Luck due to Knox's quirky storyline. As a Kirkus Reviews writer noted, the author's "bizarre narrative impasto" is "at times as entertaining as it is certifiably insane."

More realistic in focus, Black Oxen is set in the near future, as Carme Risk seeks therapy to overcome a strained relationship with her absent father. Carme's treatment includes keeping a journal about her errant parent, and much of the novel concerns these journal entries and her therapist's responses to them. Knox's story veers into the supernatural, particularly in scenes set in the fictional Latin-American country of Lequama, a land of black magic and revolution. Carme's father, whom she dubs Abra Cadaver, is a healer whose body contains excess phosphorus which he uses for fuel. Ann B. Stephenson wrote in Book that Black Oxen is "brimming with intense, poetic language" and "leaves readers with the feeling that they've lived through a dense and, at times, magical history." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that "Knox's lush, hyperinventive story telling is anything but traditional, and this time-traveling tale is as exuberantly unorthodox as its predecessor," while Library Journal contributor David W. Henderson described the novel's plot as a "fascinating, albeit tangled, web … for those who enjoy both the unusual and the intelligent."

Recalling the work of British novelists Emily Brontë and Jane Austen, Knox's historical novel Billie's Kiss is a tale of romance and mystery set in a Scottish castle in the year 1903. The central character, Billie Paxton, is one of only a few survivors after an explosion at a Scottish port sinks the Swedish steamer Gustav Edda. The accident killed her pregnant sister, Edith, and seriously injured her brother-in-law, Henry, a tutor whose new job at Kiss Castle prompted the voyage. Murdo Hesketh, the cousin of the lord of the castle, suspects that Billie was behind the explosion, but as he investigates the accident he finds himself falling in love with her. In addition to this central story, Knox examines the lives of the island's residents from Billie's perspective and explores the many meanings of the word "kiss." In a review of the novel, a Publishers Weekly critic commented that, while it falls short of Brontë's classic novel Jane Eyre, Billie's Kiss will leave "many romance fiction fans … well satisfied." Praising Knox's "vibrant comic imagination," a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that, despite its melodramatic plot, Billie's Kiss "reward[s] … the bedazzled reader with a stunning climactic confrontation."

Written for a teen audience and compared to the books of well-known Australian writer Margaret Mahy, Dreamhunter is the first novel in Knox's "Dreamhunter Duet." Taking place in the early twentieth century, the novel introduces Rose Tiebold and Laura Hame, two fifteen year olds who live in Southland, a remote island nation wherein dreaming is considered dangerous. Both girls have inherited the lucrative skill that enable them to train to become a Dreamhunter: one who ventures into The Place, a dry, arid, invisible otherworld that is "eerily suffused with atmosphere and powerfully portrayed," according to School Library Journal reviewer Sue Giffard. Searching The Place, where dreams are born, Dreamcatchers acquire visions, then bring them back to share with wealthy audiences at the island's Rainbow Opera. Like films, some dreams are inspiring and others are illuminating. Still others exist only to terrify. Charged with retrieving their first dreams, Laura succeeds, while cousin Rose fails. When Tziga Hame, Laura's dreamhunter father, disappears shortly thereafter, she receives a letter that sets her on a perilous journey. The second novel of the series, Dreamquake, finds Laura joined by others in her efforts to solve the mystery underlying The Other. Her quest ultimately reveals a secret government plot, exposes a regulator army known as the Rangers, and involves a series of mysterious disappearances. In Publishers Weekly, a critic wrote of Dreamhunter that Knox's "fully imagined world will surely lure readers back for multiple readings," while Horn Book contributor Deirdre F. Baker praised the novel as an "engrossing blend of Ed-

wardian civility, family love, and powerfully imagined dreamscape." Noting Knox's sophisticated use of metaphor and vocabulary, Baker added that her "writing is rich and interesting," while in Kliatt Michele Winship called Knox's storyline "intriguing and thought provoking, a perfect blend of fantasy and suspense." Citing the novel's "nightmare climax," a Kirkus Reviews contributor described Dreamhunter as "a lyrical, intricate and ferociously intelligent fantasy."

Discussing her creative process in an interview for the New Zealand Book Club online, Knox noted: "I don't know that I can describe a typical process of my imagination. My novels creep up on me. Often I turn my back and refuse to acknowledge them. They're too ‘vulgar’ or preposterous. Usually I know a novel is ultimately unavoidable once I start going into fugues and seeing whole scenes. That's how they come to me—in scenes, drama, dramatic encounter, incident." Her move to young-adult fantasy with her "Dreamcatcher Duet" novels was broached by Kimberly Rothwell in an interview for Stuff online. "One of the really attractive things about really good young adult fiction is that sense of something about to happen, or how you can be responsible for something," Knox explained. "They are often saving the world, these young people. It also reflects when you're a teenager, you're teetering between being a hero and being lost in the crowd. It moves all the time."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Australian Book Review, August, 1993, review of Treasure.

Book, July, 2001, Ann B. Stephenson, review of Black Oxen, p. 78.

Booklist, December 1, 1998, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 651; January 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Billie's Kiss, p. 810; April 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Dreamhunter, p. 43.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2006, April Spisak, review of Dreamhunter, p. 361.

Canadian Literature, fall, 1994, p. 253.

Economist, May 15, 1999, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 14.

Entertainment Weekly, January 8, 1999, Megan Harlan, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 63.

Horn Book, May-June, 2006, Deirdre F. Baker, review of Dreamhunter, p. 321.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Billie's Kiss, p. 11; January 15, 2003, review of Daylight, p. 106; Marcy 1, 2006, review of Dreamhunter, p. 232.

Kliatt, March, 2006, Michele Winship, review of Dreamhunter, p. 13.

Landfall, May, 1997, review of Glamour and the Sea.

Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 91; June 15, 2001, David W. Henderson, review of Black Oxen, p. 104.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1998, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 2; August 28, 2001, Michael Harris, review of Black Oxen, p. E10.

New York Times, December 23, 1998, Richard Bernstein, "A Randy Angel Meddles, Literally, in Earthly Affairs," p. E10.

New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1999, Nina Auerbach, "He's No Clarence," p. 15.

New Zealand Books, November, 1996, review of Glamour and the Sea.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of The Vintner's Luck, p. 43; June 25, 2001, review of Black Oxen, p. 46; February 11, 2002, review of Billie's Kiss, p. 165; March 17, 2003, review of Daylight, p. 59; April 3, 2006, review of Dreamhunter, p. 75.

Resource Links, October, 2006, Angela Thompson, review of Dreamhunter, p. 35.

School Library Journal, March, 2006, Sue Giffard, review of Dreamhunter, p. 225.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2006, Laura Woodruff, review of Dreamhunter, p. 499.


Arts Foundation of New Zealand Web site, (February 19, 2007).

New Zealand Book Club Web site, (September, 2003), interview with Knox.

Stuff Web site, (February 21, 2007), Kimberly Rothwell, "Opportunity Knox for Elizabeth."

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"Knox, Elizabeth 1959-." Something About the Author. . 19 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Knox, Elizabeth 1959-." Something About the Author. . (November 19, 2017).

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Knox, Elizabeth (Fiona)

KNOX, Elizabeth (Fiona)

Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Wellington, 15 February 1959. Education: Tawa College, 1972-76; Victoria University, Wellington, 1983-86, B.A. in English 1986. Family: Married Fergus Barrowman in 1989, one son. Career: Clerk, Department of Inland Revenue, 1977-78; printer, Butterworths, and PPTA, 1980-81; insurance underwriter, 1981; publicity officer, National Museum, 1983-84; assistant editor of Sport, 1988-93; tutor in film studies, Victoria University, 1989-95. Awards: PEN award, 1988, and fellowship, 1991; New Zealand Book award, 1993. Address: 74 Glen Rd., Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand.



After Z-Hour. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1987.

Paremata. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1989.

Treasure. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1992.

Pomare. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1994.

Glamour and the Sea. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1996.

Tawa. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1998.

The Vintner's Luck. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998.

Uncollected Short Stories

"From the Treasury," in Sport (Wellington), April 1989.

"After Images," in New Zealand Listener (Wellington), March 1990.

"Post Mortem," in Landfall (Christchurch), March 1990.

"The Sword," in Sport (Wellington), October 1990.

"Sex of Metals," in Now See Hear! edited by Ian Wedde and Gregory Burke. Wellington, Victorian University Press, 1990.

"Afraid," in Sport (Wellington), April 1991.

"Take as Prescribed," in Soho Square 4., edited by Bill Manhire. London, Bloomsbury, 1991.

"Fiona Pardington," in Pleasures and Dangers, edited by Wystan Curnow and Trish Clark. Auckland, Moet and Chandon/Longman Paul, 1992.

"Going to the Gym," in Into the Field of Play, edited by Lloyd Jones. N.p., Tandem, 1992.

"A Doubtful Guest," in Stout Centre Review, February 1992.

"The Black Disc (Treasure 2.2), " in Metro, May 1992.



The Dig (Un Certain Regard ), 1994.

* * *

As early as her award-winning first novel, After Z-Hour, New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox has displayed a fascination with place. In each of her works since, the characters are impelled through their experiences due to the locations in which they find themselves. This concentration on place then bleeds into the narratives themselves, turning childhood or grief or love into places the characters inhabit, places whose geographies must be discovered and navigated in order to learn to live within them and ultimately to move beyond them into newer realms. Into each of these experiential states, Knox adds a layer of mystery or the supernatural, as if to say that since all of life is a strange environment needing to be explored, nothing is beyond the realm of the possible. The improbable elements of the stories would seem to contradict the simple or mundane aspects of life, which are ultimately the indicators of the beauty of the human landscape, from a child's halting move into adolescence to an old man's life and eventual death.

Each of the novels engages in new ways with Knox's concerns: the human groping for understanding in a world that often defies comprehension; how thinking, feeling creatures come to know and interact with one another; and the eventual connections between people that ultimately give meaning to life despite the distances between them. What the novels share is a tendency to inhabit various points of view in order to tell a story that moves through time and the psychological journeys of the characters. They are, however, never simply constrained by chronology. Knox's narratives often incorporate the experiences and voices of people dead before the figures of the main plot-line were ever born. The result of this layering of time and psychology is that emotional salvation, even if imperfect, can be effected in a past to which those dwelling in the present have no immediate access. This device allows all of time to interact, and the mythic, extra-ordinary element of Knox's works becomes fully apparent.

Her first novel, After Z-Hour, perfectly illustrates all of the trends that have become signatures of Knox's novelistic style. Set in an abandoned house during a freak spring storm, the novel brings together six strangers to try to cope with the possible haunting of the house and their own personal hauntings, from the recent death of one character's stepdaughter, to the feelings of perpetual alienation felt by another, and finally the communication between a third character and a dead World War I veteran, both of whom also provide narrative episodes. The inclusion of the dead man's story acutely draws attention to memory, the novel's main focus, and how the horrors of the past, whether personal or national, both inform and allow passage into the future.

Her second novel, Paremata, relies least on the paranormal to tell its tale. Instead, the novel enters the world of children, who supply their own mystery through the power of imagination and curiosity. Paremata, like the other novels, is concerned with place, in this case the landscape of childhood set within the shifting cultural scene of late 1960s New Zealand. Knox is interested in the ways in which children make sense of the world, the acuteness of their observations. She uses the make-believe world that the children of Paremata create to delineate their fumbling towards an understanding of loyalty, belief, and their own eventual adulthood. Though the novel stays focused on the children's experience, they bring the mysterious past into play with their evocations of a shamanistic religion replete with ritual, curses, and tribal allegiances. Through this game, the children are able to safely explore their feelings and filter the bewildering adult ideas that surround them.

Treasure, Knox's third novel, sets up an ambitious scheme, alternating between an exterior plot, set in New Zealand, and an interior story that takes place in the southern United States. As opposed to the earlier novels, the two main plot lines converge at the end, bringing together all of the major themes that the novel explores. Once again, Knox inserts the supernatural and mysterious to help explain the growth of the characters involved. Here, religion, specifically the enthusiastic expression of fundamental Christian belief and its reliance on extraordinary powers, plays a central role. The ability to heal with the human touch becomes associated with the psychological healing that is afforded to the characters. Once again, Knox evokes the physical worlds in which these stories occur with careful and illustrative detail.

In The Vintner's Luck, Knox moves the setting to France during the nineteenth century. The novel is structured chronologically, each chapter recounting the events of a single year in the relationship between a vintner and the immortal angel who becomes the most important figure in his life. Knox's control over narrative and structure are fully apparent in this novel, in which the landscape in which the vintner lives and the landscape of his life as it unfolds intertwine and inform one another. Here, too, salvation becomes a reciprocal gift, the angel enriching and giving meaning to the man's short life, and the man sustaining the angel long after his human life has ended. This chronicle of a complex relationship that develops in human time despite the eternal youth of one of its participants once again highlights Knox's tendency to see the mundane and incredible as intersecting states that not only inform one another but have the ability to directly interact and influence each other and the world.

Michal Lemberger

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
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"Knox, Elizabeth (Fiona)." Contemporary Novelists. . 19 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Knox, Elizabeth (Fiona)." Contemporary Novelists. . (November 19, 2017).

"Knox, Elizabeth (Fiona)." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from