Friday, June 28, 2013

The Romanian Rainbirds

Familia Rainbird by Janet Frame (Ibu Publishing, Romania)
Translated by Julia Kretsch
A parcel from Romania, carrying
* The first Romanian edition of a Janet Frame work
* The first foreign translation of The Rainbirds
The Rainbirds (also known as Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room) is one of my personal favourites of Janet Frame's 13 published novels. It is quite often overlooked and overshadowed by the various other masterpieces that Janet Frame produced. But like all her other work, it offers rich reward for the reader. Her writing with its lyrical descriptions of the physical environment and its satirical observation of the hypocrisy of mob social behaviour is particularly acute. The plot is especially brilliant, and the message of unfair ostracism and of the vagaries of history is as fresh today as it was in the 1960s. Maybe it is even more relevant now, as Frame was so often writing "before her time".
It was always my dream to see this novel as a movie and a few years ago the Janet Frame estate did get very close to signing a major film deal for this title but, alas, the parties couldn't quite reach an agreement, the main reason being that the rights were being sought without a director on board with the project, and I feel my responsibility to the integrity of Janet Frame's work is too great to entrust the 'moral rights' to her work without knowing who will have creative control of the project.
I remember discussing this with a prominent New Zealand novelist who was also negotiating a film deal at the same time. When I expressed concern that in selling film rights, one also has to yield "moral rights", she said breezily "Just take the money and run!"
As the lawyer who was advising me at the time counselled, a live author has the right to do what they want with their own work, and if they make a mistake, they have only themselves to blame. But the executor of a great writer has more of a responsibility to make a sometimes hard decision, because they are acting as a guardian for another person's work, and in a sense your standards have to be higher than if it is your own work. The executor is responsible to posterity and should not be swayed by immediate gratification.
But maybe one day the right director will magically materialise!
What a beautiful logo the Romanian publisher has!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Celebrating book design and designers

Previous PANZ Book Design Award Winners

The Publishers Association of New Zealand Book Design Awards 2013 shortlist has been announced, along with the finalists for PANZ Young Designer of the Year Award.

The Janet Frame estate is very pleased to see that the talented Anna Egan-Reid is a finalist for the Young Designer of the Year Award 2013.

Her portfolio includes the exquisite cover design and interior design for the beautiful Gorse is Not People: New and Uncollected Stories (Penguin NZ, 2012).

Anna's typography and interior design also grace the American edition of the story collection which has the title Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories (Counterpoint 2013).
For the 2012 PANZ awards, Anna Egan-Reid (who works at Mary Egan Ltd) won 'Best Non-Illustrated Book' for Janet Frame In Her Own Words (Penguin NZ, 2011) and was a finalist for Best Cover for the same volume:

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Worth the long wait" - (Seattle Times)

"whimsy, distinctive voice and X-ray insight" - "a perfect introduction to her"

A very appreciative review of Between My Father and the King today in the Seattle Times.

Available in New Zealand as: Gorse is Not People.

Friday, June 14, 2013

World Blood Donor Day

Janet Frame receiving a blood transfusion at an outpatient clinic, Dunedin Hospital, 2003.

Friday June 14th is World Blood Donor Day - please give blood to save a precious life or to enhance the quality of someone's life or to prolong their life.

Photograph:  After she was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia in August 2003, regular blood transfusions helped to extend Janet Frame's life by several months, and to also give her a better quality of life until very near the end. The regular transfusions meant an all-day visit to the hospital. On the occasion pictured above, she had been reading Long Journey to the Border: A Life of John Mulgan by Vincent O'Sullivan, and as the photo was taken, she was checking out 'John, Alone', Karl Stead's review of the O'Sullivan book in the NZ Listener (22 November 2003).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

'Genuinely laugh out loud funny.'

'Such a treat - one that everyone just needs to run out and pick up straight away!'

Sonja de Freiz reviewed Janet's Frame's In the Memorial Room for Radio New Zealand National's Nine to Noon, in conversation with Kathryn Ryan (Tuesday 11 June 2013):

'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.'

To hear the review click this link.

And what did Sonja de Freiz think of Janet Frame's stunning epilogue to the In the Memorial Room that has confused one or two reviewers? The epilogue has been referred to in such polarising terms as 'a tour de force' on the one hand and 'bizarre' on the other. Certainly most reviewers have appreciated the poetic epilogue that soars off into the kind of platitudes and formal expressions that one finds in a language phrase book, but not everybody 'gets' it.  De Freiz says:

'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.'

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hilary Mantel on Janet Frame

Hot off the press: a newly released Italian edition of Janet Frame's classic novel Faces in the Water, first published by WH Allen in the UK in 1961.

Volti nell'acqua is published by Neri Pozza (June 2013) and uses the original translation by Lidia Perria (first published under the earlier Italian title Dentro Il Muro).

This new Italian edition features the introduction Hilary Mantel wrote for the 2009 Virago Modern Classic edition of Faces in the Water.

This particular beautifully and perceptively written passage by Hilary Mantel is quite timely given the apparent ongoing urge of some commentators to interpret Janet Frame's unique writing style as evidence for mental aberration:

"Despite the other things she could do, distinctive and remarkable things, Janet Frame remains subject to categorisation. She was put into the mad category, saved at the last moment for the artist category, and is sometimes put back into the mad category by people keen on classifications and unable to explain her genius except by defining it as an abnormality. An arid reductionism still haunts her. In 2007 a paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal suggested that she had an autistic spectrum disorder. It is time to subdue the urge to pathologise, and see Frame as the highly conscious artist that she was. At first her prose may seem a luxuriant unpruned Eden. But soon the reader sees the careful gardening, the astute nurture of what nature provides. Frame’s inner geography is complex, her psyche contains elaborate structures. She had the artist’s ability to make strange associations and imaginative leaps; along with this ability goes, not infrequently, a certain social awkwardness, a deep reserve and a tendency to withdraw from small talk. Social situations are difficult because an artist like Frame sees and hears much more than the average person; the subtext of every human negotiation is written in large type and cast in a brilliant light.

When such a writer is at the height of her powers, everything seems significant; the merest everyday object becomes freighted with symbolic value and drenched in a strange kind of beauty. This is how writers and visual artists glimpse the latent value in everyday things. Objects transform before their eyes and reveal their true nature; the world unpeels itself. Meaning proliferates, so that to write a sentence is to touch on, allude to, all the possibilities of other sentences allied to it. The world takes on a heightened poignancy, which then destabilizes emotion. This is the essence of the artist’s work. It is not a disease progress, an evidence of disintegration. But when the artist tries to explain herself – and there is always the demand –  she may be able to do it only by evoking symbols. The dart and movement of her communication, in speech or in writing, can sound like ‘schizophrenese’ and her awareness of significance and connection can sound like the insistent formulations of paranoia. To the listener of a crude sensibility, inspiration sounds like madness – all the material is there, for a medic with a check list."
~ Hilary Mantel, from her 'Introduction' to Janet Frame's Faces in the Water (Virago Modern Classics, 2009)

 PS. Click here to read Hilary Mantel's (July 2008) Guardian review of Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A bad review

A Wellington reviewer has freshly diagnosed Janet Frame as insane, based on the evidence offered by the acclaimed author’s posthumously published novel In the Memorial Room.
Writing in the Wellington-based journal New Zealand Books (Winter 2013), Elspeth Sandys refers to Frame’s protagonist Harry Gill as ‘Harry/Janet’, or even simply as ‘Janet’. Sandys has decided that Harry's voice ‘seems so close to what we identify as the “voice” of Janet Frame’; ‘this is Janet telling us about her months as the Mansfield Fellow in Menton’, insists Sandys.

‘Harry/Janet’ who Sandys also conflates variously with ‘Frame’ and ‘the author’, is described within the confines of this lengthy review as initially suffering from a ‘nervous sensibility’ but ‘succumbing later to the temptations of paranoia’, progressing to ‘the increasing paranoia of the closing sections’ leading to ‘pages of what might almost be described as “automatic writing”, closely followed by a stream of consciousness display’.

‘No sense can be made of this last burst of writing’ and Harry/Janet/the author is ‘in a state of breakdown’ concludes Sandys.

Sandys regards various passages in the novel as ‘difficult and tortuous, written by an author struggling to express complex thought in words that refuse to stay moored to specific meaning.’

This review is a gift, in that the next time that the question is asked ‘why did Janet Frame not publish this brilliantly witty and clever novel in her own lifetime?’, we can offer an important new reason: Frame possibly suspected that someone in New Zealand might misconstrue aspects of this novel as evidence that Frame herself was, after all, quite mad. And it appears that if this were true, Frame wasn't being 'paranoid' at all, because Sandys has provided the example of the New Zealand reviewer who is unable to distinguish between author and fictional character.
This new revelation can be added to the list of other speculations that commentators have posited as to why Frame suppressed In the Memorial Room:
  • accolades meant nothing to Frame, and she didn’t like being distracted from her work by that kind of attention
  • Frame was probably afraid of the recriminations from prominent members of the New Zealand literary hierarchy who were already hostile towards her because of a controversy over her complaints about the incompetent administration of the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship
  • perhaps Frame didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the well-meaning but superficial literary hangers-on that she lampoons, who have opinions about her work without knowing it very well, and opinions about her life based on malicious gossip.
Sandys is unique amongst all the other reviewers of In the Memorial Room, in wondering:  'why didn't she destroy it?'
Of course it’s not the first time that Janet Frame has been pseudo-diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder based on an assumption that her writing is more symptom than craft. It is extraordinary that this can still happen in 2013 and does show the influence of the cultural baggage carried over from the past, not to mention, perhaps, a defensiveness about who exactly it was that Frame was lampooning.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"brilliant, original and wry" ~ Sydney Review of Books

I see there's another superb review of In the Memorial Room, setting Janet Frame's newly published last novel in the context of Frame's other work and that of her literary peers.

" ‘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."

This review contains a perceptive and usefully pithy description of the themes of the novel:

"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."

 'Angela will be livid' was written by Felicity Plunkett for the Sydney Review of Books and it is a long, carefully argued and researched piece, well worth a read. And it's especially valuable for bringing Frame's first posthumous novel Towards Another Summer into the discussion.

I also treasure Plunkett's illuminating and poetic description of Frame's tour-de-force ending to the book (which is deliberately and carefully structured as were so many of Frame's other novels, into the classic 'framework' of Prologue/Main Body/Epilogue):

"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 clich├ęs 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."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Back cover blurbs

From the back jacket cover of Between My Father and the King: New & Uncollected Stories by Janet Frame (Counterpoint 2013, first edition, first impression).

I don't think any of these above recommendations for Janet Frame's work are anywhere near as controversial as the case reported in this recent Washington Post piece: 'Beware of Book Blurbs'.