Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Frank

Janet Frame In Her Own Words (Penguin NZ 2011):

An indispensable collection of Janet Frame's short non-fiction, in which - among the multitude of other topics raised - you gain a range of fascinating insights about Frame's complex and conflicted elderly friend Frank Sargeson, and about the long relationship between those two influential literary figures. Everyone who claims an interest in New Zealand social and literary history needs to read this book in which Frame speaks frankly on and off the record about her love-hate relationships with her home country with its judgmental and prescriptive attitudes.

Today marks the 109th birthday of Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame's gossipy old friend who ran a literary salon from out of a shack on Auckland's North Shore, and who searched Frame out when she came to his notice because her reputation for brilliance was steadily growing after having won a prestigious literary prize for her first book. Frame wrote her second book, the novel Owls Do Cry, while boarding with Sargeson for a little under 18 months before she left to live in Europe.

A ponderously heavy 600 page selection of Sargeson's letters has recently been published which includes dozens of Sargeson's surprisingly tender and transparent missives to Frame - who evolved as one of his most trusted confidantes - as well as to many other literary figures. A good review of this selection of Sargeson's letters was written by Peter Simpson and is archived online in the NZ Herald.

Frame completists will need to read these letters, and will find Sargeson's backstage whispers concerning Frame fascinating and at times appalling. The old saying "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" springs to mind, although Frame herself was very forgiving of the old man's foibles and like many of his other closest friends she was happy to tolerate his bitchiness and malice because of his extraordinary generosity, his wit and his gift for warm hospitality, and his genuine desire to promote good literature and to support other writers.

Open Day at Frank Sargeson's Cottage - Sunday March 25th 2012 2-4 pm
14a Esmonde Road, Takapuna, Auckland

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