Monday, June 29, 2009

Essential New Zealand Short Stories

A New NZ Short Story Anthology from Vintage 2009

The Janet Frame story included in this new volume of NZ short stories, selected by eminent New Zealand short story writer Owen Marshall, is 'Insulation', first published in 1979 in the NZ Listener.

The story was written when Janet Frame was living in Stratford, Taranaki, in the 1970s. Several members of my family had made the move to Taranaki from Auckland at around the same time.

The move was driven by a "back to the land" impulse that was in the air at that time.

I remember the first winter I spent near Stratford at the foot of the snowy Taranaki (aka Mount Egmont) was quite a shock for me. All I had previously known was the sub-tropical North Shore climate, and I had never before experienced a frost, let alone snowy weather. My parents and my aunt, who took up residence in the small country town of Stratford, a market hub for the surrounding farming district, had of course grown up in the region where I'm living now, the South of the South Island, and for them the cold winter was a return to a quite familiar condition.

The story 'Insulation' is set in Stratford, and as always I marvel at the author's ability to take a commonplace subject or issue and turn it in her imagination into a finely wrought piece that speaks of a specific time and a place but because of the quality of the composition, and the vision, is not limited by its origins: it becomes a story of universal appeal.

This anthology is of course full of many other stories like that. The editor has chosen stories "that have made their mark in New Zealand literature: stories that stand tall in the company of our very best short fiction, and are essential in that sense. Almost all of these are familiar and cherished."

It was a pleasure to see again other old favourites such as 'It's a Glorious Morning Comrade' by Maurice Gee, and Katherine Mansfield's 'The Doll's House', just to name a couple.

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