Friday, May 6, 2011

Stella Duffy recommends Janet Frame

For May's inspiration on the Virago Press blog, Stella Duffy recommends Janet Frame's short-story collection, The Daylight and the Dust:

Janet Frame, renowned for her autobiographies and her novels, was also a consummate short-story writer and poet. The Daylight and the Dust brings together work from the four story collections published during her lifetime and not only showcases her virtuoso story-telling, but also gives us a chance to follow the development of her work. From the very first these stories are perfectly made little jewels, often told from the child’s perspective, but with the adult writer’s skill at making a point, winkling out a secret, exposing a lie. Though the majority of the collection are straight stories with beginning/middle/end, identifiable characters and – as so often with Frame – family at the centre, some – ‘The Daylight and the Dust’ of the title for example – are closer to poetry in their brevity and gorgeousness of language, while others like ‘My Last Story’ speak directly to the work of writing – and of reading. This is the engagement we embark upon when reading Frame, she is not a novelist to lose oneself in the pages, her books are not necessarily ‘page-turners’ – and that’s all to the good. These are stories and characters that pull us in, their language sometimes a little strange, their style ever so slightly heightened, so that we are both immersed in the story and yet also conscious of reading. It’s a very hard trick to pull off, and yet Frame achieves it time and again – allowing us too, to coolly stand alongside, and value both the work the writer is giving us and also our own interpretation. It is the act of being outside and inside the piece at once. A good short-story collection is the ideal array of tapas or meze, just enough and not too much – or the perfect box of chocolates. Frame, with her bitter-sweet eye for sadness and hilarity, hope and despair intermingled, gives us both. Delicious.

* The Daylight and the Dust is also known as Prizes: Selected Stories (in the USA and in New Zealand)

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