Michael Rose, 2 August 1984
Let’s begin with ‘Let’s begin with the tea towel.’ Thus Professor Curl Skidmore, narrator of C.K. Stead’s All Visitors Ashore, announcing his presence in a text which proves something of a minor breakthrough in fictional technique. Towels, starting their lives as insignificant domestic signifiers, later waved at ships, soaked in blood, not waved, bleached by the sea, acquire, like other material tokens in this novel, semantic value as motifs and symbols of loss, purity, fidelity and conflict. Student Skidmore, prime object of his later self’s ironising attentions, is living out a year of emotional turmoil in a New Zealand paralysed, not so much by the dock dispute of 1951, as by an Establishment of such stuffy self-righteousness and intellectual vacuity that a beachside poetry-reading occasions a police raid.