Monday, July 14, 2008

Agonies over cheese on toast

Laura Thompson writing in the Sunday Telegraph reviews Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame, Virago (UK), Random House (NZ & Aust).

Janet Frame was born in New Zealand in 1924. She died four years ago, having achieved renown in middle age with the publication of three volumes of autobiography, most notably An Angel at my Table (1984), which was filmed by Jane Campion.

These works deal with difficult material; as a young woman Frame spent almost 10 years in mental hospitals. She narrowly escaped a lobotomy, although British psychiatrists later concluded that she had never been mentally ill. Instead, as this autobiographical novel makes clear, she was so sensitive that she could scarcely deal with normal life.
The novel tells a very simple story, hardly a story at all. A writer named Grace Cleave, raised in New Zealand but now living in London, spends a weekend in the northern town of Relham with a journalist named Philip Thirkettle, his wife and two children. Grace feels displaced, and is unable to communicate even the simplest phrase; she recognises her own inadequacy but perpetually seeks the refuge of solitude.
This weekend did actually take place - in 1963, the journalist Geoffrey Moorhouse interviewed Frame, then invited her to his home - and for all its uneventful quality the episode nagged at her to the point that, although she was in the middle of another novel at the time, she applied what she called "literary surgery" and wrote it out of her system. Yet for some reason she did not want the resulting book published.
For the full review link to the Arts Telegraph online.

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