> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 24 June 2015
  • ISBN: 9781775537519
  • Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $34.99

The Villa At the Edge of the Empire

One Hundred Ways to Read a City




A provocative and insightful exploration of rebuilding our homes, communities and cities after their devastation.

A provocative and insightful exploration of rebuilding our homes, communities and cities after their devastation.

Where are we? How did we get here? Where do we go now?

From nineteenth-century attempts to create Utopias to America’s rustbelt, from Darwin’s study of worms to China’s phantom cities, this work ranges widely through history and around the world. It examines the evolution of cities and of Christchurch in particular, looking at its swampy origins and its present reconstruction following the recent destructive earthquakes. And it takes us to L’Aquila in Italy to observe another shaken city.

Farrell writes as a citizen caught up in a devastated city in an era when political ideology has transformed the citizen to ‘an asset, the raw material on which . . . empire makes its profit’. In a hundred tiny pieces, she comments on contentious issues, such as the fate of a cathedral, the closure of schools, the role of insurers, the plans for civic venues. Through personal observation, conversations with friends, a close reading of everything from the daily newspaper to records of other upheavals in Pompeii and Berlin, this dazzling book explores community, the love of place and, ultimately, regeneration and renewal.

  • Pub date: 24 June 2015
  • ISBN: 9781775537519
  • Imprint: RHNZ Vintage
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $34.99

About the Author

Fiona Farrell

Fiona Farrell is one of New Zealand’s leading writers, publishing work in a variety of genres. Her first novel, The Skinny Louie Book, won the 1993 New Zealand Book Award for fiction. Other novels, poetry and non-fiction books have been shortlisted for the Montana and New Zealand Post Book Awards with four novels also nominated for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Farrell's short fiction has appeared in the company of Alice Munro and Hanif Kureishi in two volumes of Heinemann’s Best Short Stories (ed. Gordon and Hughes), while her poems feature in major anthologies including The Oxford Book of New Zealand Poetry and Bloodaxe’s best-selling Being Alive. Her play Chook Chook is one of Playmarket New Zealand’s most frequently requested scripts. Farrell lives with her partner on Banks Peninsula and since 2011 she has published three non-fiction titles relating to the Christchurch earthquakes: The Broken Book, The Quake Year and in 2015, The Villa At the Edge of the Empire, the factual half of a two-volume work examining the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction.

Fiona Farrell is a frequent guest at festivals in New Zealand, and has also appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. Fiona received an Arts Council Scholarship in Letters in 1991, and has held residencies in France (1995 Katherine Mansfield Fellowship to Menton) and Ireland (2006 Rathcoola Residency). Fiona was the 2011 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. In 2007 Fiona Farrell received the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction. She was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for 'services to literature' in the Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012 and in 2013 Fiona was awarded the Michael King Writers Fellowship.

In his New Zealand Herald review of Limestone, David Hill said that Farrell ‘writes richly, sensuously. She adds things in, rather than leaving things out . . . the plot is springy and inventive, characters are engaging (or engagingly repellent), language is witty, chatty, and flecked with that characteristic Fiona Farrell subversive mischief.’ The Sunday Star Times wrote of Book Book: ‘There’s something quotable on every page . . . a deeply pleasurable, one-of-its-kind masterpiece.’

Beryl Fletcher, in the Waikato Times, praised Farrell for having ‘. . . the rare ability of turning the mundane events of domestic life into profound human experiences. Her writing is poetic, moving and literary.’

Also by Fiona Farrell

See all

Praise for The Villa At the Edge of the Empire

“The research is prodigious but laid lightly upon the page with something wonderful in every chapter and, as often, something terrible. . . This is the book those of us outside Christchurch, watching from afar in ill informed horror, have been waiting for. It confirms all our worst suspicions. And for those who have lived through the disaster, it will provide a coherent account of events they must at times have struggled to believe were actually happening. The Canterbury earthquakes and aftermath have produced a lot of bad books, as well much fine writing. With The Villa at the Edge of the Empire, the quakes have produced their first indispensable one. This is the first of two volumes, the next of which will be a work of fiction. I can't wait.”

North & South

“Fiona Farrell's new book is a marvellous and wise account of life in Christchurch after the earthquakes. . . Some of us have been waiting for a book like this about the earthquakes and the years after; a book this literate, considered and insightful. . . . Farrell's book gets some of this communal experience and conveys the right sense of outrage. Yet it can also be funny. Her opening pages, in which she reviews the bombastic media launch of the blueprint in 2012, must be some of the sharpest writing about the rebuild so far . . . It is true to say that this is also a political book. Fair enough, too, as the recovery is a political story. . . . The book is packed with thinking but the wisdom is, as reviewer Paul Little said, "laid lightly upon the page". Everyone is sure to learn something. Roman philosophers are consulted. The lovely word "solastalgia" is cited. . . .”

Philip Matthews, Weekend Press, Christchurch

“A book written with an angry mind, a philosophical spirit and a wise and forgiving heart, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire is fiendishly difficult to classify. Part autobiography, part polemic and part discourse on history and nature, it is a response not only to Christchurch's lethal earthquake of 2011, but also to the very flawed way in which the city is being reconstructed and rebuilt. . . . An endnote to The Villa at the Edge of the Empire says it is the first, non-fiction part of a two-part project, the second volume of which will be fiction. Like this one, it should be a must-read.”

Nicholas Reid, Sunday Star-Times

“This book is simply astonishing. It is a book warm and sharp, so beautifully crafted, that depends upon an astute mind at work, a heart that travels and cares, ears that attend, eyes that reap images, experiences. It is a book of Christchurch; a book that signposts the city of the past, navigates the city of the present and dreams the city of the future. Both poetic and political, the protagonist Christchurch enacts a layering of cities. In this mind and that mind. From this mouth and that mouth. Here and there. It is an essential read, not just in the way it draws you into the unspeakable (a city devastated), but in the way it reminds you of what it means to live in communities. If our media (in part) is reluctant to sustain deep, keen and rigorous analysis of the ideologies and the structures that shape us, then thank heavens for a book like this. I love the fact that when Fiona embarks on a project she is not sure whether she can pull it off. That to me underlines her courage and her tenacity. If I recommend one book this year, this is it.”

Paula Green, Poetry Shelf

“It is a tremendous piece of work from a brilliant mind that examines Christchurch, how the city was made and how it is remaking itself postearthquake. . . . It's a hallmark of real genius to be able to tackle such a difficult topic and create such a readable book.”

Herald on Sunday

“Fiona Farrell's Villa at the Edge of the Empire is fascinating and provocative.”

Harvey Perkins, NZ Listener

“Essentially about Christchurch, the earthquake, aftermath and rebuild. But it is much more. It is geography, maps, geology, history, philosophy and empathetic stories about people devastated by earthquakes, their houses and lives shaken to pieces. A must-read for all except those too traumatised to relive this chaotic time.”

Rosie Sanderson, Daily Post

“One of our finest writers reflects on the Canterbury earthquakes with compassion, intelligence, anger and creativity, looking at Christchurch from its earliest days to the current process of rebuilding the city, observing the people, priorities, processes and absurdities of the rebuild.”

Kia Ora Magazine


Related titles