Monday, August 24, 2015

A fictional book within a book that you CAN read

I was intrigued to come across a Huffington Post list about "fictional books within books we wish were real".

A book that does not actually exist is the sort of literary tease that I associate with Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, and these authors do both appear on that list of fictional books that appear only within another book.

Wikipedia also has a list "of fictional books that appear within literature" - a much longer list, which includes (for instance) titles within Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, and some of the many books mentioned within the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (noting that The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is itself fictional!).

Fans of Janet Frame's Living in the Maniototo might remember 'the Watercress novel' that features in the narrative. It is a manuscript that is being lugged around by its author.

Janet Frame lugged around a few manuscripts in her time, that she occasionally mentioned to other people, but for reasons of her own never published in her lifetime.

She used to talk about "The Goose Bath", about "Towards Another Summer", and about "Gorse is Not People".

She also talked about "the novel I wrote in France".

When we (Frame's executors) first read the manuscript referred to by Janet Frame (to us and to others) as "the novel I wrote in France", it was quite obvious that this novel could possibly be seen as a manifestation of the fictional "Watercress novel". It was, after all, about a Watercress Family.

The manuscript was untitled (or so we at first thought). For a while, we considered calling it 'The Watercress Novel', but that didn't seem quite right. That was a description, not a title. And in any case, the new novel had a life of its own. It was a superbly written self-contained piece that deserved to stand in its own right - even though it did have a fascinating intertextual relationship with the later Living in the Maniototo. It is a more minor work than the masterpiece Maniototo, although reviewers are discovering that Memorial does have greater depths than a superficial reading might indicate. It's funny, and easy to read, but it is more than just a footnote or an appendix.

Fortuitously we came across a journal in the archives that Janet Frame had kept while she was writing the Watercress novel. In it, she expressed her wish to call the novel she wrote in France 'In the Memorial Room'. And so it was.

Arguably, you can now read the fictional 'Watercress novel'! In the Memorial Room was first published in 2013 to stunning reviews in Australia, USA and New Zealand.

Text Publishing have this month released a paperback Text Classics edition of In the Memorial Room.

It is all very 'Janet Frame'. I am sure she enjoyed planning this surprise for us.

A box of presentation copies arrives. Exciting!

Some Reviews of In the Memorial Room

‘Not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors…A deeply funny book.’ Weekend Australian

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

‘A deliciously mischievous piece of fun, this is sharp social satire, ruthless in its mockery of literary pretension.’ Caroline Baum, Booktopia

 'a formidable work. It is also amusing, satirical, poetic and provocative - a real joy to read.’ Sunday Star Times

In the Memorial Room is filled with terrifyingly beautiful reflections on how writing books (and even reading them) can feel like digging your own grave. It also serves as a sly warning to those of us who obsessively cherish the works of dead writers—even writers as good as Janet Frame. Watch out! The death you memorialize may well be your own.’ New York Times Book Review

‘Delightful, funny and profound.’ Metro Magazine (NZ)

'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.’ NZ Herald
 On the shelves now, in New Zealand and Australia. A new classic.


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