Monday 29 December 2014

End of Times (Well, this year anyway...)

By the end of the year all the words just pile up, so there’s a need to assess the situation so we can all move on. Looking back I note that my reading this year was reasonably eclectic, but unfortunately not always satisfying. Thankfully there weren’t any books read that were as noxiously offensive as the infamous Finkler Question (I will not even reference it - you just don’t want to know...); but probably the least worthy was Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts. That was a book club read, so I had no choice in the matter - the things I do! Enforced reading has its benefits however, with Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites proving to be one of the best novels I have ever read, and that’s no mean feat. Other highlights include The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, J.G.Ballard’s The Complete Short Stories, Samuel Delany’s The Einstein Intersection and Annabel Smith’s The Ark, which achieves that rare feat of pushing at the boundaries of the novel.

Do I have any New Year’s resolutions? No - I just want to read.

Monday 15 December 2014

Owls Do Cry - Janet Frame (1957)

Those who are familiar with Jane Champion’s film - An Angel at My Table (1990), would have an awareness of both the hardships and the triumphs of Frame’s life. Owls Do Cry was her first novel and like her admirers work, Patrick White, it is a fine example of high modernism. The style is organic; words tumble along with allusive child-like poetic imagery. It is quite beautiful, but can present a challenge to those unfamiliar with modernist forms bending narratives. Owls Do Cry follows the fortunes of the Withers family, including Daphne, whom is modeled on Frame’s own experiences (although in interviews Frame advised against seeing her work as autobiographical). There is also pointed social satire; revealing New Zealand’s growing middle class to be shallow and hypocritical. The novel is profoundly sad and left me feeling bereft and slightly adrift. I admired the writing but did not enjoy the overall experience; it felt like I was being forced to confront some deep inner core of melancholy. Tackle Owls Do Cry when you are feeling robust and adventurous, otherwise it could turn out to be an emotionally draining experience.