Calling New Zealand...are you there New Zealand?
Do you receive me?
I'm just semaphoring across the oceans to let you know that I think you are a very fortunate country indeed to be able to lay claim to an author like Janet Frame. I hope there are trusts and monuments and preserved houses, a Janet Frame national holiday and the rest because what a legacy.
Look, I'm even flying your flag for the day in recognition. I've read through the rules and I think it's allowed.
Having read Towards Another Summer and then The Lagoon a few weeks ago now I've turned the final page of Owls Do Cry after carrying this little Bloomsbury Classics edition of the book around with me for so long. Perfect bag-sized reading and yet another book I didn't want to end.
Janet Frame's first novel, feels semi-autobiographical and to read her really is like luxuriating in a bathful of glorious words and I really didn't want to get out.
The ethereal sense of the world of the child mediated through the child's stream of consciousness is remarkable in so many ways, but mostly because I effectively moved into this childhood world and lived alongside Francie, Daphne, Toby and Chicks and saw through their eyes all those childlike things that an adult misses but Janet doesn't.
Fears, hopes, dreams and that interpretation of the world all piercingly accurate.
This is a book of two halves, childhood and adult life, and woven in amongst it all I spotted the lightly disguised events of Janet's life, and whilst she may have been beset by that ever-present sense of doubt in her own personal worth and the attendant inadequacy and low self-esteem, there is no question that on the page Janet Frame shapes up as one of the most superlatively adequate and exceptional writers that I have come across.
It would seem that Janet never looked on Owls Do Cry as a novel, more a fictional exploration drawing on both personal experience and imagination whilst making no distinction between the two, a writer who in her own typically self-effacing words,
'chose rags from an old bundle, stitched them together, waved a wand, and found herself with a completely new dress...I do collect bundles of rags and I like to sew them together. I suppose I must accept the fact that I have no wand.'
At the same time I'm dipping in and out of An Angel at My Table, Janet's autobiography and Wrestling With the Angel, Michael King's biography and if that wasn't all enough I spent an evening watching the film version of An Angel at My Table directed by Jane Campion (and at £5.98, a cheap-as-chips bargain on Amazon right now)
I've been completely and willingly Framed.
It's all left me feeling I have a wealth of differing perspectives from which to read more of her writing.
The film is astonishingly good and worthy of the accolades it has won. Perfectly cast young, teenage and adult Janets and a beautiful voice-over who all convey just the right sense of Janet, painfully shy and nervous in company, completely self-conscious about her appearance and the mass of bright red and uncontrollably frizzy hair.
Add in a family living on the brink of poverty and the associated stigma, family illness, tragic sudden deaths and the mental illness that dogged Janet for years until finally the mis-diagnosis was exposed, and expect to be moved to tears.
Jane Campion beautifully spotlights the vitally important guardian angels who appeared at certain times in Janet's life. The inspiring teacher, the psychiatrist who finally gets it right and gives Janet permission to write, Frank Sargeson the fellow writer who offers her a writing refuge from life at Willowglen and all its attendant miseries and memories when she is discharged from hospital, and we have them all to thank for the existence of Owls Do Cry and all that followed.
I will own up that there were certain moments during the film when I just had to keep my hands busy frantically frogging and skeining the half-knitted Colinette jumper, because some of the scenes in the mental hospital were harrowing even though often just a glimpse. Janet was kept there for eight interminable years and endured over 200 sessions of ECT (the fear of which she likened to facing execution every single time) but all part of her story and therefore essential to the whole.
Much worse for me would be to have never discovered Janet Frame's life and writing at all.