Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"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."


"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."


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