Janet Frame is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her writing is surprising, absurd, knowing, funny, sad, dark, moving, imaginative and honest. She was an incredibly hard-working writer, often having to work in uncomfortable or strange conditions (while overcoming much personal tragedy). I’ve read quite a few of her novels; plus her short fiction, her poems, and her memoirs, and when I heard about the novel to be posthumously published, In the Memorial Room, I had to have it.
I was also glad to review it for The Australian. It felt like a weighty task, in some ways, to review the posthumous novel of (arguably) New Zealand’s most famous author, for a national newspaper. But it also wasn’t difficult because as soon as I began reading the novel, it was like sitting down very comfortably with an old friend; a very smart, witty, entertaining old friend. And I felt confident that I was a good listener for her.
It’s different than many recent posthumous novels, too, as it was intended for publication after her death. It’s not one of those cases where the executor has failed to burn the manuscript, resulting in questions around literary ethics. This book is, instead, quite perfectly posthumous…
The review begins:
In the Memorial Room is not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors, New Zealander Janet Frame, who died in 2004.
It’s the story of a young author of historical fiction, Harry Gill, who receives the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, allowing him to work in Menton, France. Harry has taken the fellowship despite the fact his sight seems to be failing.
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