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  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9780143776000
  • Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $40.00

The Mirror Book

Growing up behind the family façade.

Brave, explosive, and thought-provoking, this is a powerful memoir from a critically acclaimed writer.

‘It’s material, make a story out of it,’ was the mantra Charlotte Grimshaw grew up with in her famous literary family. But when her life suddenly turned upside-down, she needed to re-examine the reality of that material. The more she delved into her memories, the more the real characters in her life seemed to object. So what was the truth of ‘a whole life lived in fiction'?

This is a vivid account of a New Zealand upbringing, where rebellion was encouraged, where trouble and tragedy lay ahead. It looks beyond the public face to the ‘messy reality of family life – and much more’.

  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9780143776000
  • Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $40.00

About the author

Charlotte Grimshaw

Charlotte Grimshaw is the author of eleven critically acclaimed books to date, encompassing novels, short stories and memoir.

A reviewer in The New Zealand Listener noted: ‘A swarming energy pervades every page she writes . . . her descriptive writing has always been of the highest order. Most of it would work just as well as poetry.’

She is a winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award. Her story collection Opportunity was shortlisted for the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Prize, and Opportunity won New Zealand’s premier Montana Award for Fiction, along with the Montana Medal for Book of the Year. She was also the Montana Book Reviewer of the Year. Her story collection Singularity was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Prize and the Asia Pacific Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her novel, The Night Book, was a finalist for the New Zealand Post Award. Grimshaw’s fifth novel, Soon, a bestseller in New Zealand, was published by Jonathan Cape in the UK and by Anansi in Canada and the United States. These two novels were made into a TV series, The Bad Seed, which screened on TV One in 2019. Her novel Mazarine was longlisted for the 2019 Ockham Book Awards. In 2021 she published her bestselling memoir The Mirror Book, which was shortlisted for the Ockhams New Zealand Book Awards.

Her monthly column in Metro magazine won a Qantas Media Award. She was 2016 finalist in the Canon Media Award Reviewer of the Year, and won the 2018, 2019 and 2021 Voyager Media Award for Reviewer of the Year.

Information on all of Charlotte Grimshaw’s books, reviews and selected reviews and columns can be found at www.charlottegrimshawauthor.com

In 2014, Charlotte Grimshaw and her husband Paul Grimshaw, along with law firm Grimshaw & Co, agreed to sponsor the Sargeson Fellowship, which awards a stipend and residency to writers. Charlotte Grimshaw is also a literary advisor for the Sargeson Trust. She has been involved in writing courses for young people run by the Michael King Writers’ Centre. She has judged the Sunday Star-Times Short Story award twice, and the Auckland University Ingenio short story award twice, and was the judge of the premier award of the 2014 BNZ Katherine Mansfield short story prize. She is also a literary advisor to the Academy of New Zealand Literature.

“Charlotte is one of New Zealand’s most accomplished and acclaimed writers with a significant publishing record. She has few peers as a fiction writer and essayist, and as a reviewer and public intellectual. Her work for newspapers and magazines reveals her curiosity about the world, her immersion in contemporary politics and social issues; it demonstrates her clear-sighted thinking, willingness to interrogate and expose, and desire to engage with difficult topics. Her writing can be searing and fearless. Her work as a fiction writer wins literary awards and is adapted for television, a rare combination anywhere, especially for an author who is not writing commercial or historical fiction.” – Dr Paula Morris MNZM

Also by Charlotte Grimshaw

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Praise for The Mirror Book

With bracing clarity, Grimshaw strenuously interrogates the dynamics of her 'tidily chaotic, respectably anarchic, stably unstable' family, delicately tracing the rising curve of friction and chaos within it . . . To be clear, this is in no way a resentful or angry book. Grimshaw maintains a calm, diagnostic coolness throughout when it would be so easy to write in anger. . . . A writer of unquestionable depth and insight, Grimshaw has what must be an almost overwhelming (for her, I imagine) and meticulous ability to view and consider everything she reports on from every angle imaginable . . . The Mirror Book details excruciating grief, loneliness, infidelity, psychological and emotional abuse, and physical violence . . . Grimshaw is a peerless writer with a strong sense of acuity and The Mirror Book is one of the best New Zealand memoirs I've read in years. Sure, it's a juicy page-turner but it is also full of surprises, acutely reported, and, as you would expect from Grimshaw, is written beautifully with dignified poise and care. A reflection of clarity and beauty.

Kiran Dass, Metro

Infidelity, sexual assault, domestic violence, literary battles and a family feud it's not a novel but award-winning author Charlotte Grimshaw's explosive memoir . . . The Mirror Book is many things: an examination of memory, an exploration of psychological mysteries, a plea for understanding. But much of it is a reckoning of an existential crisis.

Mark Broatch, NZ Listener

‘Lovely childhood, house full of books.’ That’s the story the family told about themselves – but The Mirror Book shatters it all. Very occasionally you encounter a book where you think – this writer saved their own life in the writing of this. . . to be a witness as Grimshaw’s pen draws out the story of her life is to completely buy into a mission that is righteous and urgent. Although it deals in the intimacy of this very specific New Zealand family, it pans out to take in the universal. The vertigo of the book’s revelations come from its interrogation of our understanding of reality in its most proximal sense – whether we really know our family at all, and if not – how can we know ourselves? . . . Grimshaw’s unnerving approach to storytelling is to show you something sacred, and then slide it out from beneath you. . . . I am convinced that telling our stories is existentially important, and I’m grateful that Charlotte has told hers. What she has achieved here is to make herself wholly visible and this memoir invites the rest of us to do the same.

Emma Espiner, The Spinoff

You’re about to hear a lot about Charlotte Grimshaw. . . Grimshaw has a memoir out on 30 March. The Mirror Book is a slim little dagger of a thing that marches right up to Stead’s version (three volumes, hulking big hardbacks, the third is out in May) and stares it down. . . . To read it is to watch a person finally stand up straight, stand in the light. . . . You don’t need to know anything about Stead or poetry or New Zealand letters to be gripped by this book. You’ll also, early on, forget about the he-said she-saids: Grimshaw’s a lawyer and she is absolutely scrupulous with her receipts. It’s March and I’m calling it: book of the year.

Catherine Woulfe, The Spinoff

The writing is astounding, particularly in vivid set pieces of childhood incidents: in at least two of them Charlotte and her siblings are in mortal danger. And this is not a blackand-white book; Grimshaw is at once a loyal daughter and a furious one.

Rachael King, Weekend Herald

The Mirror Book is a fascinating portrait of not only a family, but the writing process. How we magpie material (go and make a story out of it) and what we build from it and at whose expense? And where the line between fact and fiction is drawn: ‘I’d been inventing and writing stories since I was a child. When I decided to try something different, to write a true account of my life, I ran into a wall of fiction.’ . . . Another mantra, often repeated, this time from the psychologist: ‘Telling your story is existentially important.’ The Mirror Book is not written for our entertainment and it is not written to shock or edify us, though it does all of these things. Grimshaw creates a portrait of her parents in order to try to understand them, to ‘tell the story of our family, at least to myself, in order to save myself. All my life Kay and Karl had been telling it, and now I didn’t think it was accurate.’ It’s a book that needed to be written, for the writer to reinstate her place in the world, her family, her self.

Rachael King, ANZL

The Mirror Book, a memoir . . . is the most harrowing, profoundly moving work of her prolific career.

Linda Herrick, Sunday Star-Times

This is The Mirror Book you are hearing a lot about: the explosive story of how the daughter denounced the father, Sylvia Plath-style. (And, like Plath, she denounced the mother too.) But that’s only part of it. . . . To read The Mirror Book is to feel that fiction has finally stepped through the looking glass and emerged as fact, with all the bravery and all the difficulty that suggests. Where Grimshaw’s fiction can go after this book has both cleared the air and related the backstory is anyone’s guess.

Philip Matthews, Newsroom

Grimshaw attempts to excavate the truth of her family’s history after years of mythmaking by her famous father — in which he was readily abetted by the rest of the family, where a frequently referenced “lovely childhood, house full of books” was truthfully only half the story. The memoir is fascinating not only on its own merits but for the ripples it has caused in certain literary and media circles — the unusually frank nature of Grimshaw’s writing, which at times is as fond as it is damning, has prompted a host of remarkably thoughtful and interesting reviews and interviews.

North & South

The strength of her confessional, or analytical, memoirs is that she does not go in for an all-out attack; she depicts family relations sometimes supportive and bantering alongside the dreadful. As she makes clear in her foreword, she does love her parents, lives nearby and would always be there for them. . . . The Mirror Book makes a reader want to revisit all her writing with new eyes. . . . Approaching this book is an exercise in discomfort it helps to read the book in chunks and take a deep breath. It is a painful world, and one which Grimshaw is hugely brave in confronting publicly, as well as attempting to open a forum, yet again, with her parents. Grimshaw should be commended for her raw openness.

Jessie Neilson, Otago Daily Times

As I read The Mirror Book I came to see Charlotte Grimshaw as my guide. On the first page she wrote of “the destructive effect of silence and the restorative power of narrative”. She understood that when you are a writer and something life-changing happens to you, you will write about it. And that if your story is well told, you will publish it. So that’s what I did. . . . The power of personal storytelling following trauma lies not so much in catharsis as in connection. Charlotte knows this when she says, “someone heard your protests, and acknowledged they were valid.” . . . Reading The Mirror Book was a form of therapy, and I came to it with a question: is it ok to tell my story? She replied: telling your story is existentially important. There can be no more powerful affirmation than that. Thank you, Charlotte.

Polly Lang, The Spinoff

The very best book of non-fiction of 2021 was also the very best book of any kind in 2021. It was the year of Charlotte. . . . The writing – the prose, the sentences – was on fire. The thinking – the depth and intensity of it – set another blaze.

Steve Braunias, Newsroom

We asked our own regular contributors for their favourites, confining them to books published in 2021. One book appeared in so many ‘best’ lists we’ve singled it out as book of the year, in a category all its own. It’s Charlotte Grimshaw’s The Mirror Book, reviewed by Rachael King. Other ANZL contributors describe it as ‘honest, engaging and humble’; ‘explosive and delicate’; and ‘an utterly riveting account of how an author made (and remade) herself.’


Without question the book of the year, a masterclass in memoir, dissection and nuance. Everyone in it is absolutely fascinating.

Catherine Woulfe, The Spinoff

Charlotte Grimshaw's The Mirror Book . . . should be at the top of any autobiography junkie's list.

Kelly Dennett, Sunday Star-Times

When life enters a novel it becomes fiction. But what if you want to reverse the process and return to the truth of the matter, what do you get? In Charlotte Grimshaw’s extremely well-written memoir about her family (her father is CK Stead) and a crisis in her own marriage, often as not, you get more fiction. Her family’s motto about experience was: It’s material. Make a story out of it. But in a house of fiction, fiction is apt to prevail. When Grimshaw tells her father that her mother doesn’t talk to her, he denies it, saying she’s always talking to you – the family frequently emerging as troubled and in denial. One of her early relationships is brutally violent, but mirroring the family she, too, goes into denial. All the same, this is a deeply affectionate portrait, but always probing and unflinching in its examination of family and self.

Cameron Woodhead, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Mirror Book is not about any objective truth or correcting a record . . . Rather, it argues for a multiplicity of stories and truths to be allowed to coexist, for individual narratives to accompany and complicate each other, rather than to compete for primacy or demand consensus. . . . The Mirror Book is full of shifts and the occasional jolting realignment, but it has a hard-nosed curiosity and a determination towards honesty that are compelling and poignant. It is a fascinating exploration of the complexity of the stories we tell about ourselves and each other – everything that shapes them and what they might shape in return.

Fiona Wright, The Saturday Paper

The prose in Charlotte Grimshaw's The Mirror Book is exquisitely precise in its navigation of the complexity of the author's family dynamics.

Nicholas Reid, Judge of the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Award

Awards & recognition

Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Shortlisted  •  2022  •  Ockham NZ Book Awards