The Te Ara biography of Helen Wilson says of her: "White-haired and blind, using an ear trumpet and an 'impatient white stick', Helen Wilson impressed those she met in her later years with her eagerness, warm humour and vivid conversation." This is pretty much exactly what this book feels like: the story and memories of a woman of intelligence and humour.
The book is considered a New Zealand classic, probably in no small part because of its vivid portrayal of late 19th century/early 20th century New Zealand. But the real charm of the thing is the twinkling entertaining prose. Wilson is a quick, lithe narrator of her own tale, not averse to a bit of self-deprecation, full of humour and eminently entertaining. Even the title gives you a sense of the mischievous humour of the woman.
It is the tale of her own life in New Zealand, starting as a child in Oamaru. She tells with an admirable matter of factness the stories of building an entire home with her mother near Levin - an achievement that seems astonishing from the point of view of a modern audience. She talks about meeting her husband, Charles Wilson, while afixing shingles to a roof, moving on to their marriage and subsequent political journey. They both became fairly well known in local political circles. She was involved in the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmers' Union (WDFU), and described it as her "first and only love in public life", while her husband was a Reform Party candidate, and an MP for Taumarunui from 1911 until 1914.
The book could be really historical and dry, but Wilson's prose sparkles, bringing it all to a kind of personal, colourful life.
In typical irrepresible style, Wilson taught herself to type in her 70s, while living with her daughter in Hamilton, and wrote both this book and a novel, "Moonshine". "My First Eighty Years" brought her some acclaim, and it is well deserved.
If you're a fan of autobiographies, memoirs, or historical New Zealand, or, really, just a well told tale, you'll enjoy this book. Highly recommended.