Thursday, June 23, 2016

LitHub: Excerpt from Janet Frame's JAY TO BEE

 
An excerpt of five letters from Jay to Bee
can be read online at:
 
 
 >all kinds of mentionable, unmentionable, tangible, intangible, monostitched, laconic, desperate, deliberate, makeshift, conclusive, unanswerable, goatish, porcine, mulish, zoomorphic, dovelike, recoverable, conservative, waterproof, bloodsucking, unauthorized, fictitious, authentic
LOVE
from me and Thesaurus<
 
 
 

An important new survey of aspects of NZ literary history


Here's a new reference book that is worth taking a look at:

 A History of New Zealand Literature

Edited by Mark Williams
Cambridge University Press 2016
Hardback
ISBN 9781107085350

 From the publisher's website:

 "A History of New Zealand Literature traces the genealogy of New Zealand literature from its first imaginings by Europeans in the eighteenth century. Beginning with a comprehensive introduction that charts the growth of, and challenges to, a nationalist literary tradition, the essays in this History illuminate the cultural and political intricacies of New Zealand literature, surveying the multilayered verse, fiction and drama of such diverse writers as Katherine Mansfield, Allen Curnow, Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame, Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace. Written by a host of leading scholars, this History devotes special attention to the lasting significance of colonialism, biculturalism and multiculturalism in New Zealand literature. A History of New Zealand Literature is of pivotal importance to the development of New Zealand writing and will serve as an invaluable reference for specialists and students alike."

 I have had a quick look at this book at my local library and it does look very good.

The chapter 'Janet Frame: Myths of Authorship' was written by Marc Delrez who is easily the smartest scholar currently writing about Frame. I don't agree with everything he says (when I can understand it!) but at least I can see that he is not stupid enough to fall for the biographical fallacy that has seduced a few of the weaker-minded Frame scholars over the years.

Many other interesting chapters in the ToC and many other reliable names of contributors too, indicate a valuable addition to the literature. Am looking forward to reading more.
 

'Consensus favors familiar myths': the problem with Wikipedia


"Wikipedia relies on “consensus” as the final arbiter of content, rather than a ruling board of supposedly expert editors, as in, say, the Columbia Encyclopedia. Wikipedia’s continual give-and-take corrections work well for math and science, less well for history and literature where consensus is sometimes ill-informed. Dubious romantic or heroic stories about larger-than-life figures like W.B. Yeats or Ernest Hemingway cannot be dislodged because consensus favors familiar myths."


~ Edward Mendelson, from 'In the Depths of the Digital Age'
The New York Review of Books
June 23 2016

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/06/23/depths-of-the-digital-age/

(Edward Mendelson is, by the way, the literary executor of WH Auden.)

Goldfish bones



Huesos de Jilguero (Universidad Veracruzana, 2015) is a selection of poems by Janet Frame in Spanish translation, published by the University of Veracruz, Mexico, with various translators. It's a bilingual edition (216 pages) and the poems are chosen from both of Janet Frame's poetry collections The Pocket Mirror and The Goose Bath.

Here is the link to the publisher' website.

Here's a blog review of the book (in Spanish).

 
There was earlier this year a literary panel on the subject of the book at FILU 2016:

13:00 a 14:00 horas,
Presentación del libro Huesos de jilguero. Antología poética, de Janet Frame, editado por la UV
Participan: Nair Anaya y Camila Krauss. Modera: Nina Crangle

And another event.

Looks like you can buy it online here.
 
The title "Bones of the goldfinch" has been taken from Janet Frame's poem 'Goldfinch' first published in The Goose Bath ten years ago in 2006.
 
Here are the last two stanzas of the poem:
 

My goldfinch
bones like wires growing
yellow paper flowers
threaded light like a bead in his eye

his beak hissing
for the fresh air
–Lift the roof O my child
and trust the sky.


 

The Janet Frame Memorial Lecture 2016


 This year the annual Janet Frame Memorial Lecture was given by New Zealand Society of Authors President of Honour Philip Temple at the Wellington Festival in the City Gallery.
 
Here is a link to the text of Dr Temple's lecture.
 
I wasn't able to attend the Wellington event but happily Philip Temple recently reprised his talk for a Dunedin audience.
 
His subject was 'Where we were, where we are now' and it was very interesting to hear his experiences from a long and illustrious career. His talk covered many changes in the landscape of New Zealand writing. It was sobering to hear of the time when it was 'risible' to say your career was as a freelance writer.
 
Like Janet Frame, Philip Temple is one of the few New Zealand authors who have managed to live off their writing alone.

 
 
More information about Philip Temple's life and work can be found on his website.
He is currently writing the biography of novelist Maurice Shadbolt.
 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Delightful Mail" ~ New York Times


Jay to Bee: Janet Frame's Letters to William Theophilus Brown is out now in the United States edition, a handsome beautifully produced jacketed hardback published by Counterpoint Press.

"Fans of authors' correspondence will find a delightful example of the genre in Jay to Bee ... "Frame's playful spirit can be seen in the many doodles she included in her correspondence, as well as in her words."
 
~ The New York Times Book Review
 

 

"A curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors" - The Australian



Here is a collection of excerpts from reviews of Janet Frame's novel In the Memorial Room, a novel that she wrote in 1974 but that was not published until 2013.

Janet Frame herself named this novel "In the Memorial Room" in a journal she kept in France while she was writing it, but amongst her friends and family she referred to it as "the novel I wrote in France". In her last years in Dunedin Frame pulled out the old manuscript and worked on it. She was known to have said "it's rather good" and "I wish I had done something with it".  She also fictionalised the novel in her masterpiece Living in the Maniototo, where it was referred to as "the Watercress Novel".


New Zealand Herald:

"Reading this is like finding an unwrapped gift long-hidden at the back of the wardrobe. The novel is quite unlike anything else Frame penned, yet she is recognisable in every pore of every sentence and of every word. Her love of language is infectious and so, too, is her sense of humour."
"This novel is like a prism that becomes something other as the light changes. It is a comedy, then fable, satire, then autobiography and, overall, uplifting fiction."

"Frame has fearlessly absorbed a European way of writing, from the slowness of pace combined with delicious detail, philosophical sidetracks and the psychological interior of the main character."

"After pseudo-blindness comes Harry's deafness, and Frame's philosophical intricacies on the presence, absence, truth and elusiveness of writing are a delight. Yet the novel is grounded in the intimate details of Menton. Each morning Harry reads a curiosity-driven list of things in Nice-Matin from deaths to births, from temperatures to television (he never watches it), to what is on the radio (he never listens) to foreign news and traffic accidents, from advertisements to the lost and found. Then he can start writing."

"The conclusion is daring, like a jazz riff on beginnings and endings. The author is thinking while she plays, and playing while she thinks."

"This is a novel layered with vulnerability, intelligence, pain, joy and finely judged humour. I loved it - there is much to offer those familiar with Frame's work and a perfect starting point for those yet to read one of our treasured writers."

Library Journal:

"A beautifully crafted artistic and philosophical creation that explores the nature of communication and exposes Frame’s love of language."

Metro Magazine (NZ):

"Delightful, funny and profound."

Bookiemonster (NZ):

"The writing is exactly what we expect from Frame—gorgeous, delirious and shining with delight."


Literary Minded (Australia):

"Janet Frame is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her writing is surprising, absurd, knowing, funny, sad, dark, moving, imaginative and honest. She was an incredibly hard-working writer, often having to work in uncomfortable or strange conditions (while overcoming much personal tragedy)."

"As soon as I began reading the novel, it was like sitting down very comfortably with an old friend; a very smart, witty, entertaining old friend."

"It’s different than many recent posthumous novels, too, as it was intended for publication after her death. It’s not one of those cases where the executor has failed to burn the manuscript, resulting in questions around literary ethics. This book is, instead, quite perfectly posthumous…"
 
ANZ LitLovers (Australia):

"Released posthumously in accordance with Frame’s instructions, In the Memorial Room is a wicked black comedy. Written in the 1970s, it was withheld from publication because it’s so obviously based on Frame’s own experience in Menton, France, as a recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship."

"It’s not hard to see how it would have ruffled feathers if it had been published 40 years ago."

"Frame, however, is too good an author to pen just an everyday satire.  It’s easy to poke fun at people who take themselves and their devotion to the object of their admiration too seriously.   But Frame also explores some serious undercurrents: what kind of identity does an author have when she is inhabiting her characters with intensity?  And what is lost by agreeable people when they adapt themselves too slavishly to the demands of others because they fear revealing their true selves?"


“A strange, resonant, Nabokov-ian novel about the plight of Harry Gill, a New Zealand writer on a six-month fellowship in France, struggling to write his first imaginative fiction. Works by Frame (1924-2004), the New Zealand novelist and autobiographer, continue to appear. Never published during her lifetime, this book is marvelous experimental fiction.”

"Frame’s sentences are marvels, winding like narrow alleys through hill towns: They open spectacular vistas. Brilliant."

Publishers Weekly (USA):

"In her signature eclectic style, Frame has crafted both a canny commentary on literary fame and hero worship and a heartfelt meditation on what it means to be a writer."

The Australian:

"In the Memorial Room is not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors, New Zealander Janet Frame, who died in 2004."

 "It is mentioned in the preface that Frame did not want to offend anyone involved with the Mansfield Fellowship, or in Menton, but it's also probable that she enjoyed the idea of a posthumous conversation with the reader, about language, expression, "truth" and endings: retirement, personal or professional obliteration, and (always there behind it all) death. And here, too, lies Frame's sharp, knowing wit, her attention to the absurd, and also - as some may think of it - her darkness."

Booktopia, Australia:

"Well, who'd have thought! Forget the thin skinned sensitivity of the Janet Frame you associate with An Angel at My Table. This gem ... [In the Memorial Room] ... shows a very different and much lighter personality."

 "A deliciously mischievous piece of fun, this is sharp social satire, ruthless in its mockery of literary pretension."

Australian Book Review:

"In the Memorial Room is a welcome if belated discovery, a delightfully absurd and creepy exploration of a certain kind of writer's plight. Its satire on the literary industry is also chillingly contemporary. Go to any writer's festival and take a look at the people pontificating onstage. You will see a lot of Michael Watercresses: they belong to a tribe that goes forth and multiplies. But you will have to look very hard to find a single Harry Gill."

Sydney Morning Herald:

"mordant, malicious and often very funny"

"In the Memorial Room triumphs as a pungent analysis of the manufacture of fame, a satire of the discontented, a poignant account of the loneliness of every writer and of Harry Gill in particular."

 [The ending to the book is] "a brilliant cadenza".

Sunday Star-Times:

"witty, erudite and profound"

"It is a formidable work. It is also amusing and satirical, poetic and provocative - a real joy to read."

"among the most impressive of her already imposing oeuvre"

"it explores a range of ideas that were central to her life and work"

"an unparalleled exhibition of all her skills - comic, satirical, poetic and profound"

Otago Daily Times:

"downright hilarious"

"brilliant, but cutting"

"Frame is shrewd as ever in her observations"

"Her work is a joy to read"

"The late Janet Frame's works are rewarding to read because they work on so many levels. On the most ''basic'' one, she simply writes a great story. Delving deeper, there is much more.    

The layers of meaning and reference, autobiographical elements, vivid and poetic language, characterisation and satire in Frame's second posthumously published novel In the Memorial Room show again why she is one of New Zealand's literary greats."

Sydney Review of Books:

" ‘It amused me,’ Harry thinks, ‘to suppose what the last word would be.’ And this, in the end, is Frame’s last word – brilliant, original and wry – on fiction, the posthumous writer, and the whole business of being the dead horse in which a pseudo-literary culture cowers, to shelter from shocks."

 "In the Memorial Room is both literally and figuratively posthumous. It centres around  themes of creativity, being a writer, and a writer’s posthumous memorialisation."

"Tumbling across the page from this point in the novel is a hilarious, spiralling and brilliant interior monologue, a bizarre implosion jewelled with the stifling clichés that have caused Harry to deafen. Wild and mischievous, it is part Molly Bloom, part hat-salesman, part-psalm. From the novel’s quiet, observant narrative bursts forth a vibrant new language of the secret, shouting Harry, like the ‘mutinous lunacy’ he has observed earlier: a bright mosaic tessellated with all the smooth phrases he has endured."

Radio New Zealand (Nine to Noon):

'Genuinely laugh out loud funny.'

 'Such a treat - one that everyone just needs to run out and pick up straight away!'

 'It's absolutely fantastic. I can't begin to rave about it enough.'

 'There's so much in it, even though it's only a short novel.'

'Right at the end, she has taken an incredible risk ... the book ends, and she moves into almost what another reviewer has described as "beat poetry" ... it's brilliant, absolutely brilliant.'

Landfall Review Online:

"Frame knows how to hit the sweetest spot when it comes to wry and dry, observational humour. People are ridiculously silly and Frame not only knew that but she is the high priestess of the dark art of conveying it with words. And nowhere in her vast oeuvre is it more evident in her last novel, her final chuckle from the grave, In The Memorial Room."

"This is not a novel as has been suggested, about how miserable Frame found the Katherine Mansfield Residency, but rather one based on her years of observation; watching and understanding, and I suspect being hugely amused, by the social conventions and expectations of this kind of strangeness that is New Zealand Literature. How it can eat you alive, spit you out again or even attempt to replace you with a person who looks far more the part."

 "The cult of expectation is alive and well, as are the literary vultures who never read anything, but always mean to. And not only is the satire still relevant, but the writing hasn’t dated either, and that’s Frame’s true genius. In the Memorial Room could have been written yesterday, it’s just that fresh and relevant in the telling."

Critic:

"a critique of, and commentary on, the sometimes pretentious literary community"

 "More than anything else, this book is about people and their interactions. The observations that Harry makes of the Watercress family are both enlightening and amusing. In the Memorial Room has wonderful character representations, and each character is artfully and cleverly created. Janet Frame really is a wonderful, astute, interesting writer."

New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"filled with terrifyingly beautiful reflections"
"The problem with literature, Harry concludes, is that this very nothingness — like the nothingness of the dead writer, Margaret Rose Hurndell, in whose honor his award has been given — is what critics and readers memorialize."
 
"This short, funny and often beautifully written novel — completed in the early 1970s but just now being published — provides an excellent occasion for remembering the weird wisdom and genuine talent of Janet Frame, who died in 2004 after a startlingly diverse life."



 

New book by Tusiata Avia

Exciting news! The Janet Frame Literary Trust's 2013 Poetry Award recipient Tusiata Avia has launched a new book. Powerful work as ever:

"Fale Aitu | Spirit House is a dreamworld that not only portrays strong and assured voices, but also explores the whispers of quieter ghosts. With Tusiata Avia’s brilliant language, this dreamworld becomes a landscape that is both quietly eerie and beautiful." We <3 Books, (Booksellers NZ)


"Tusiata Avia is an essential voice in New Zealand and Pasifika literature. In her fearless new collection, she weaves together the voices of the living and dead, the past and the present in poems that are confessional and confrontational, gentle and funny. Speaking from Samoa, Christchurch, Gaza and New York, she combines stories from myth and the everyday, never shying away from pain or wonder."
Booknotes Unbound (NZ Book Council)

From ironic to uncritical: the evolution of a CK Stead blurb

 A recent edition. The selectively quoted Janet Frame statement, without its qualifier, now reads as apparently uncritical:
"A masterpiece" JANET FRAME
Harvill Panther

The  original blurb here reads:
"A masterpiece of creative writing."
Janet Frame New Zealand Listener
 
(It can just be made out on the bottom right of the above cover, and
was, to anyone not tone deaf, a pointed jibe.)
 
 
It's widely believed that Janet Frame was unconcerned with the vicious fictional portrait of her that CK Stead constructed in his novel All Visitors Ashore (1984) as revenge for what he perceived to be Frame's earlier unflattering fictional treatment of him as a balding mediocre poet in her short story 'The Triumph of Poetry' (1963).  Frame consistently denied that her fictional portrait had been intended to portray Stead. She even named the person who had inspired her story - another academic known to her.

This online review of All Visitors Ashore repeats the assumption that: "Frame had no complaints about the delayed retaliation."

 Stead himself has also insisted that Janet Frame "wouldn't have cared", when he has been called out on his various misrepresentations of her (NZ Listener 14 August 2010).

And yet, when Frame was asked her opinion of All Visitors Ashore her public response was to call it "a masterpiece of creative writing." (New Zealand Listener). Frame took the high moral ground, and she meant what she said: it was fiction, and it was a piece of work, a clever one.

How thick are those who can't see the sly barb in that? And why are they even involved in literary fiction if they have so poor a recognition of irony?

Frame said plenty about Stead's revenge novel to her inner circle. But she didn't "go public"; she didn't like falling out with friends and she had a genuine fondness for Karl who (as he says of her too) could be "delightful company". She admired him and I know she would be disappointed if she had known how toxic he would become towards her and her estate after her death. Or perhaps she knew that would happen; she had a pretty good understanding of the darkness in the human heart, which is why she could tolerate ambiguity and complexity in her friendships.

As far as I know Janet never fell out with anyone she had been close to. That wasn't her way. She was the adult in the room in almost every case. She knew how to forgive and let live. I only knew her to intensely dislike one person - the loathesome parasite Patrick Evans - and to my knowledge she never even met Evans. She certainly never had any kind of relationship with Evans, so her rejection of him wasn't a falling out. He just didn't rate.

Privately, Frame could discern what was fiction and what wasn't. She was amused by All Visitors Ashore and she did think it was well done although the cold fury behind it was not lost on her. When you are a writer, Janet often said, everything that happens to you is "grist to the mill". For her, that apparently made even such deeply personal betrayals more bearable.

There was one thing Janet was especially intrigued by. In one passage the Karl Stead-inspired character is having lustful thoughts about the Janet Frame-inspired character. Janet Frame's response to this was (and I heard her say this several times in conversation):

"I had no idea Karl was thinking about sleeping with me! I was so sexually naïve at the time!"

Since first publication Stead's own narrative around his novel has changed. Most recently he seems to believe that the character that is a lampoon of Frame is actually a biographical portrait of her. I suppose that is why he has had to take the "creative writing" bit out of the Janet Frame quote that he uses for a blurb. As Stead becomes even more curmudgeonly, he wants people to believe that his derogatory portrait is not entirely 'creative' but is also credibly 'realistic'.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Recent Janet Frame editions


Poland Faces in the Water, Australia/New Zealand In the Memorial Room paperback edition, UK/Commonwealth Owls Do Cry, Germany Owls Do Cry, Japan The Lagoon and other stories, Sweden Selected Poems, Slovenia Selected Short Stories, USA Letters, Mexico Selected Poems.

A lovely representative selection of Janet Frame's poetry, stories, novels and non-fiction - backlist as well as posthumously published - in a pleasingly diverse range of languages.

 

Janet Frame at a literary picnic





A delightful new mural graces the streets of Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

Portrayed is an imagined picnic celebrating some prominent New Zealand authors.

Pictured from left in this detail from the mural painted by artist Victoria Heatherbell on a Chorus box are:


Hone Tuwhare, Janet Frame, Lauris Edmond, John A. Lee, Ruth Dallas, James K. Baxter.

Janet Frame did know all these other writers: Ruth Dallas and Jim Baxter were close friend of hers, she knew Hone Tuwhare well and she had met Lauris Edmond and even John A. Lee, but this is not a historical scene.
 

A bad review in more ways than one


More Shelf-Regard from Karl Stead

I see that CK Stead's new book of essays Shelf-Something-Or-Other includes his 'review' of Janet Frame's posthumously published novel In the Memorial Room that she wrote while she held the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship in Menton in 1974.

Among other things, many other things, Frame's short novel contains some compassionate and very funny portraits of well-meaning but terribly patronising middle class literary hangers-on. Some have called these vignettes 'cruel' but are they as cruel as the blatant condescension they depict, in which a hapless artist is harassed and exploited and squabbled over like a piece of cultural property?

According to the publisher's Table of Contents, Stead calls his piece 'Janet Bites the Hand...' It first appeared in a Katherine Mansfield organ (Katherine Mansfield Studies Volume 6).

(Please note that Stead is spluttering about a novel that kept its counsel for just short of FORTY YEARS.)

Riiiight.

So Janet Frame is not permitted to satirise and lampoon human frailty? Without being accused of being ungrateful to those very kind self-sacrificing people who did all they could to help the poor thing despite herself? (As those busybodies apparently saw it.)

This pompous attitude, from the author of All Visitors Ashore, which contains a viciously unflattering fictional pillorying of Janet Frame herself, as well as other recognisable characters, is outrageously hypocritical.

Oh the double standard, oh the self-importance.

For a start, helloooo, isn't this fiction? So only this self-proclaimed towering pillar of NZ Lit is himself permitted to have his satirical work treated seriously? But Frame is once more by another mediocre and unimaginative critic, relegated to the autobiographical corner and her work is parsed only for what some misguided detective THINKS they can source to her real life? Ignoring all the rest - and Stead has certainly not noticed a lot in this 13th of Frame's novels - he claims that in it, Frame is blind to the physical charms of the South of France. Where can his head be? There are the usual astute and lyrical Framean descriptions of the physical environment in the book. Stead claiming they are not there does not make it so - it just makes him look like a fool. Here is an example of one of Frame's passages:

I went out of the house and down the avenue to the beachfront and the promenade. It was too early for bathers but there were many people sitting on the seats watching the waves and the black-headed gulls riding again and again the large waves, and the camions tipping their loads of soil to make the reclamation for the new restaurant in time for the summer opening. The soil surged from the truck, some falling into the water, colouring the waves, the colour spreading along the waterfront so that the inner waves were clay coloured, the outer waves the azure so proudly talked of and written of.
I sat on one of the seats. I felt homeless. The Fellowship tasted, not bitter, but sour in my mind. The springtime sky was blue, the distant mountains white with rock and sun.
(In the Memorial Room, Janet Frame)

Frame has the last laugh as usual in a brilliant passage where she describes her protagonist (who is not her, despite the simplistic reading Stead gives him) watching a reclamation project, noting the 'azure' sea being turned a muddy colour in the process. The influx of tourists to the beautiful region has meant truckloads of dirt are being poured into the ocean to extend the land area, to make more room for the brief superficial visitor who demands only the surface appearance of sun and sea. Not unlike Stead himself demanding a vacuous travelogue when the plate set before him is apparently too rich and subtle for him. Frame even gives a jibe here about the dangers of cliché: "the azure so proudly talked of and written of".

Yet I expect Stead's new collection will attract the usual simpering praise from the usual sycophantic suspects.

Very recently this same vein of class disdain that poisons the upper echelons of 'NZ Lit' emerged in an essay written by former Frank Sargeson acolyte Graeme Lay. The mask slipped for a moment and the ordinary reader was exposed to the embarrassing fact of the snobbishness of those who regard themselves as the literary elite of New Zealand. Read the essay here:



It's worth looking at this shocking essay (perhaps it is satire?) in the context of CK Stead's characteristically disparaging descriptions of Janet Frame. It's easy to compare the upwardly mobile young academic Karl Stead's incomprehension of Janet Frame's obstinate non-conformism and working-class-rules, with Lay's deriding of Craig Marriner, the young author from the provinces who is sniggered at for his clothes and judged for his behaviour and the supposedly vulgar company he keeps. They're "not one of us", they're a joke.

Frame's unconventional clothes and frizzy hair (she wouldn't look out of place on either score today) seem to have been the chief symptoms of the mental illness she was believed to be suffering from. The true Bohemian was and is a rarity in New Zealand. Stead wrote in an earlier essay of the 'strangeness' of Janet Frame's clothes and her hair:

"there was something very strange about her - shyness, hypersensitivity, timidity, fear, to the point of morbidity, certainly; but even beyond all that, something intangible I felt very strongly, with a sort of animal apprehension when we were young; something that expressed itself physically, in her body language, her clothes, but in the body itself, neck, skin, hair." (CK Stead, Bookself, 2008) (my emphasis)

 Stead was certainly not alone in being nonplussed by Frame's clothes and hair. News reporters, for example the author of the report of the glittering function at which Frame was presented with the Menton Fellowship, frequently made a point of mentioning her clothes, that they were in some way not quite right. This was fair game for Frame's satire. For obvious reasons she wouldn't have dared publish it in her own lifetime, given the bullying she had received from the likes of Stead and Sargeson when she had the temerity to criticise the poor administration of the Mansfield Fellowship (in a letter to the NZ Listener). 
 
Stead mocks Frame now, and he berated her at the time, for complaining about the facilities at Menton. Here's what she had to say:
 
"I was criticised because I did not like peeing in the garden as there was no toilet and no water. In short I was criticised because I was not a man with a man’s physical facilities for a quick pee."  (from Janet Frame in Her Own Words, Penguin NZ, 2011)
In this new review Stead also lambastes Frame for complaining about the "slow remittances" of the Menton Fellowship money (as he also attacked her at the time in the pages of the NZ Listener). Of course what would Stead know about her precarious financial situation in which a disastrously late cheque meant real hardship? A tenured university lecturer like him with his writing career a mere hobby, the fellowship money would have been cream for him, not the subsistence it meant to Janet Frame, for whom writing was a career.
There is an analogy to be drawn between the outrage that greeted Janet Frame's criticism of the inept administration of the Menton Fellowship and the snide remarks from our prime minister John Key and others about Eleanor Catton and her critique of NZ society: an implication that if a woman has benefitted from grants and fellowships then she should keep quiet like a good girl and not rock the boat. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, girlie.
 
As for In the Memorial Room, there were dozens of rave reviews around the world.
 
There were only two other critics I noticed besides Stead who didn't like Memorial Room much and interpreted it to be a sad, overtly biographical and embarrassing document that would have been better suppressed in order to preserve Frame's 'reputation'.
 
Hah! Frame's many fans may be indeed be very grateful those three critics have not been in charge of Frame's estate! Coincidentally these three naysayers were all New Zealanders, and all were contemporaries of Frame's... it must have been a shock to find their condescending attitude in turn being condescended to. No wonder the book made them feel uncomfortable.
 
Here are some excerpts from reviews rather more perspicacious than Stead's, that do seem to provide excellent evidence that his malicious claim in this review that Frame's reputation is being harmed by the Janet Frame estate in general and by the publication of In the Memorial Room in particular, is an absolute nonsense:
 
Kirkus (1 Nov 2013):
“A strange, resonant, Nabokov-ian novel about the plight of Harry Gill, a New Zealand writer on a six-month fellowship in France, struggling to write his first imaginative fiction. Works by Frame (1924-2004), the New Zealand novelist and autobiographer, continue to appear. Never published during her lifetime, this book is marvelous experimental fiction.”
"Frame’s sentences are marvels, winding like narrow alleys through hill towns: They open spectacular vistas. Brilliant."
Publishers Weekly (USA):
"In her signature eclectic style, Frame has crafted both a canny commentary on literary fame and hero worship and a heartfelt meditation on what it means to be a writer."
The Australian:
"In the Memorial Room is not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors, New Zealander Janet Frame, who died in 2004."
 "It is mentioned in the preface that Frame did not want to offend anyone involved with the Mansfield Fellowship, or in Menton, but it's also probable that she enjoyed the idea of a posthumous conversation with the reader, about language, expression, "truth" and endings: retirement, personal or professional obliteration, and (always there behind it all) death. And here, too, lies Frame's sharp, knowing wit, her attention to the absurd, and also - as some may think of it - her darkness."
Booktopia, Australia:
"Well, who'd have thought! Forget the thin skinned sensitivity of the Janet Frame you associate with An Angel at My Table. This gem ... [In the Memorial Room] ... shows a very different and much lighter personality."
 "A deliciously mischievous piece of fun, this is sharp social satire, ruthless in its mockery of literary pretension."
Australian Book Review:
"In the Memorial Room is a welcome if belated discovery, a delightfully absurd and creepy exploration of a certain kind of writer's plight. Its satire on the literary industry is also chillingly contemporary. Go to any writer's festival and take a look at the people pontificating onstage. You will see a lot of Michael Watercresses: they belong to a tribe that goes forth and multiplies. But you will have to look very hard to find a single Harry Gill."
Sydney Morning Herald:
"mordant, malicious and often very funny"
"In the Memorial Room triumphs as a pungent analysis of the manufacture of fame, a satire of the discontented, a poignant account of the loneliness of every writer and of Harry Gill in particular."
 [The ending to the book is] "a brilliant cadenza".
Sunday Star-Times:
"witty, erudite and profound"
"It is a formidable work. It is also amusing and satirical, poetic and provocative - a real joy to read."
"among the most impressive of her already imposing oeuvre"
"it explores a range of ideas that were central to her life and work"
"an unparalleled exhibition of all her skills - comic, satirical, poetic and profound"
Otago Daily Times:
"downright hilarious"
"brilliant, but cutting"
"Frame is shrewd as ever in her observations"
"Her work is a joy to read"
"The late Janet Frame's works are rewarding to read because they work on so many levels. On the most ''basic'' one, she simply writes a great story. Delving deeper, there is much more.    
The layers of meaning and reference, autobiographical elements, vivid and poetic language, characterisation and satire in Frame's second posthumously published novel In the Memorial Room show again why she is one of New Zealand's literary greats."
Sydney Review of Books:
" ‘It amused me,’ Harry thinks, ‘to suppose what the last word would be.’ And this, in the end, is Frame’s last word – brilliant, original and wry – on fiction, the posthumous writer, and the whole business of being the dead horse in which a pseudo-literary culture cowers, to shelter from shocks."
 "In the Memorial Room is both literally and figuratively posthumous. It centres around  themes of creativity, being a writer, and a writer’s posthumous memorialisation."
"Tumbling across the page from this point in the novel is a hilarious, spiralling and brilliant interior monologue, a bizarre implosion jewelled with the stifling clichés that have caused Harry to deafen. Wild and mischievous, it is part Molly Bloom, part hat-salesman, part-psalm. From the novel’s quiet, observant narrative bursts forth a vibrant new language of the secret, shouting Harry, like the ‘mutinous lunacy’ he has observed earlier: a bright mosaic tessellated with all the smooth phrases he has endured."
Radio New Zealand (Nine to Noon):
'Genuinely laugh out loud funny.'
 'Such a treat - one that everyone just needs to run out and pick up straight away!'
 'It's absolutely fantastic. I can't begin to rave about it enough.'
 'There's so much in it, even though it's only a short novel.'
'Right at the end, she has taken an incredible risk ... the book ends, and she moves into almost what another reviewer has described as "beat poetry" ... it's brilliant, absolutely brilliant.'
Landfall Review Online:
"Frame knows how to hit the sweetest spot when it comes to wry and dry, observational humour. People are ridiculously silly and Frame not only knew that but she is the high priestess of the dark art of conveying it with words. And nowhere in her vast oeuvre is it more evident in her last novel, her final chuckle from the grave, In The Memorial Room."
"This is not a novel as has been suggested, about how miserable Frame found the Katherine Mansfield Residency, but rather one based on her years of observation; watching and understanding, and I suspect being hugely amused, by the social conventions and expectations of this kind of strangeness that is New Zealand Literature. How it can eat you alive, spit you out again or even attempt to replace you with a person who looks far more the part."
 "The cult of expectation is alive and well, as are the literary vultures who never read anything, but always mean to. And not only is the satire still relevant, but the writing hasn’t dated either, and that’s Frame’s true genius. In the Memorial Room could have been written yesterday, it’s just that fresh and relevant in the telling."
Critic:
"a critique of, and commentary on, the sometimes pretentious literary community"
 "More than anything else, this book is about people and their interactions. The observations that Harry makes of the Watercress family are both enlightening and amusing. In the Memorial Room has wonderful character representations, and each character is artfully and cleverly created. Janet Frame really is a wonderful, astute, interesting writer."
New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
"filled with terrifyingly beautiful reflections"
"The problem with literature, Harry concludes, is that this very nothingness — like the nothingness of the dead writer, Margaret Rose Hurndell, in whose honor his award has been given — is what critics and readers memorialize."
 
"This short, funny and often beautifully written novel — completed in the early 1970s but just now being published — provides an excellent occasion for remembering the weird wisdom and genuine talent of Janet Frame, who died in 2004 after a startlingly diverse life."


 

From Switzerland with love

The Otago Daily Times recently reported on an impressive educational field trip from Switzerland to Oamaru:

"Celebrated New Zealand author Janet Frame's reach extends far beyond the shores of her home country, as a group of students from a Swiss university visiting her former Oamaru home has proved.
   
On Saturday, six students and two lecturers from Franklin University Switzerland, a private, independent, liberal arts college, were in Oamaru, where they visited Janet Frame House in Eden St and several other prominent Oamaru landmarks..."

[Read more]

Janet Frame House, Oamaru
"an interesting paratext"
 
Student Hella Wiedmer-Newman said she first became interested in Frame's writings when she saw the Jane Campion-directed film An Angel at My Table, a dramatisation of Frame's autobiographies.
   
"I love her writing. I was thrilled we were reading her for the class. You can totally imagine her using this landscape, with the location of her house being so close."
   
She said it was an amazing experience to be able to learn more about the author in her former home, and described it as an "interesting paratext''.
      

 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

From Janet Frame to the Ockham Book Awards


Congratulations to David Eggleton whose book The Conch Trumpet has won the prestigious 2015/2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Best Book of Poetry, worth $10,000.
 
David Eggleton was earlier awarded the 2015 Janet Frame Literary Trust Poetry Award (worth $5,000) and the Frame trustees and the members of our advisory panel are all delighted that The Conch Trumpet, a truly outstanding work, is gaining such recognition and reward.
 
This is not the first time that a New Zealand author has been awarded the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award and has gone on to win the premier New Zealand Book Award: Rhian Gallagher (JFLT Poetry Award 2008) won the NZ Book Award in 2012 for her poetry volume Shift and Alison Wong (JFLT Fiction Award 2009) won the 2010 NZ Book Award for her novel As the Earth Turns Silver.
 
In 2014 Geoff Cochrane (JFLT Poetry Award 2009) was awarded the lucrative Arts Foundation Laureate Award worth $50,000.
 
2016 is the first year the New Zealand Book Awards have been sponsored by Ockham. Previous sponsors have been New Zealand Post, Montana Wines, and food processing company Wattie (later Goodman Fielder Wattie).
 
I think I speak for many of the winners and finalists of the NZ Book Awards when I personally admit that my favourite sponsor was the wine company. Janet Frame's posthumous volume of poetry The Goose Bath won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Best Poetry Book in 2007 and as one of the editors of that volume I had the great honour and pleasure to accept the prize on Janet Frame's behalf. The prize packages in those days included bottles of excellent bubbly! And the celebration dinners were well lubricated!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Peedauntal Question



Yesterday was the last day ever that you could Google the word 'peedauntal' and get NO answer.

Peedauntal is a word that close friends artist Bill Brown and author Janet Frame made up together early in their relationship and that figured very much in their first year or so of correspondence. The first book of Janet Frame's letters to Bill (William Theophilus Brown) will be published in a few hours in the USA, and the mystery of the Peedauntal will be solved by reading that volume.

No spoilers please!




JAY TO BEE: JANET FRAME'S LETTERS TO WILLIAM THEOPHILUS BROWN
Edited by: Denis Harold
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Counterpoint USA
Release Date: 10 May, 2016
Language: English
List Price: US$28
ISBN-10: 1619027283
ISBN-13: 978-1619027282
Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds

Publisher's website:
http://www.counterpointpress.com/dd-product/jay-to-bee/

Please note: not yet available in New Zealand
 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Anna Smaill @ Janet Frame House

 
Man Booker Prize longlisted novelist Anna Smaill has been invited to Oamaru by the Friends of the Janet Frame House. She will speak at the Oamaru Library at 6pm on Friday 22nd April 2016 and give a writing workshop the following day at the Janet Frame House, 56 Eden Street, Oamaru.

Anna Smaill, as well as being a poet and novelist, also studied Janet Frame in her academic career. She published an essay 'Beyond Analogy: Janet Frame and Existential Thought' in Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009) edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Her Friday night talk is entitled 'Breaking Worlds - Janet Frame and Dystopia'.

Smaill's own celebrated novel The Chimes was dubbed by the Guardian as "an original Dystopian Debut", so the audience at her talk can be guaranteed some fascinating insights into this theme.

Another great literary weekend sponsored by the Friends of the Janet Frame House.



 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guardian paperback fiction choice: Owls Do Cry


Another accolade for Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry - it was selected by the Guardian as their paperback fiction choice for this month (March 2016):

"Our fiction choice this March is the dazzling and under-appreciated classic Owls Do Cry by New Zealand’s finest author, Janet Frame. Just released in a brand new edition, this was her first full-length work of fiction, originally published in 1957. A hugely innovative work at the time, it is now considered a modernist masterpiece.
 Poetic and experimental, Owls Do Cry recounts the story of a poor and tragedy-bound family, gently exploring mental health, poverty and loneliness. It was one of the first novels to deal with life in a mental institution, drawing similarities to Mrs Dalloway, The Bell Jar and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – the all-time greats alongside which Owls Do Cry earns a worthy place. Informed by the author’s own time in such institutions, it skilfully allows the realistic narration of events to drift into evocative and dreamlike prose.  
A sombre and, in places, heart-breaking story, Owls Do Cry is beautifully written and affecting, and we think will stay with you long after you turn the last pages."