Janet's favourite books /writers and who would she be pressing on us to read and telling us we mustn't miss...
She was a voracious reader. You have to be, of course, if you want to write. She would tell you to read the classics, and the best writers of your own time too (you know who they are!). And the Russians! And the French! I remember her insisting I read Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Antoine de St Exupéry, Patrick White, Rilke, Kafka, Camus. Some of her other favourites were: Walt Whitman, John Updike, Pepys, Chekhov, Dickens, Tolstoy, Poe, Chaucer, Shakespeare. She liked the perfection of the short form, and would reread the great short stories. She loved reading well-turned essays. She also read a lot of non-fiction and poetry, and always read the latest work of her friends who were writers. Just too many to name. And she would read the junk mail and the cereal packet too.
So now I hope everyone has a sense of the real Janet Frame and my sincere thanks to Pamela Gordon for answering the questions for me and for allowing me to use the photographs.
If you are thinking you might like to pick up a Janet but may not know where to start I have linked to some previous thoughts on her books here over the years. It was thanks to Stella Duffy and Linda Grant at that memorable event at the Du Maurier Festival in Fowey that I found an author I have really grown to love, respect and cherish and I really hope some of you will discover her too if you haven't already.
'This story came last night. Everything is always a story, but the loveliest ones are those that get written and are not torn up and are taken to a friend as payment for listening, for putting a wise keyhole to the ear of my mind.'
The Lagoon is the book that saved Janet Frame's mind and most probably her life given that prior to its publication and subsequent garnering of literary accolades Janet was scheduled to undergo a lobotomy having been admitted to a mental hospital for depression.
This knowledge alone ensures that I will probably always read Janet Frame with that sort of reverence for a prodigious talent that could have been so tragically wiped out, lost forever and with utter gratitude for what still awaits for me to read, and the tears consequently well up in my eyes especially over stories like The Bedjacket.
'It was almost Christmas time and everybody in the mental hospital was wanting to go home.Some had homes and some didn't but that made not much difference, they all wanted to go to a place that could be called home where there were no locked doors... more
'A word which is exciting to look at and say and doesn't slop its meaning over the side is good; a word which comes up from the well is good; a word which clusters like last year's bee around last year's flower is bad if the flower is already dead, but good if the flower is surviving, beautiful, and alone in a place where flowers have not been known to grow and where bees have never swarmed before nor gathered nectar.'
Haberdashery....harbinger... I've been trying to think of them, words which don't slop their meaning over the side, though who can know which words Janet Frame had in mind when she wrote that... Janet Frame does something so clever here, choreographs something so complex and does it so capably that I had to keep stopping to figure out exactly what she had done and quite how she'd done it.... more
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...more
Writer Grace Cleave is thirty, unmarried, a native New Zealander, exiled and homesick, living in a cold wintery London and sees herself as a migratory bird 'it is time for me to fly towards another summer',
'How had she ever become used to living in Great Britain, she wondered. How had she ever been able to exchange the sun, the beach, the shimmering tent of light, the dramatic landscape, mountains, rivers, gullies, glaciers, for the brick bleeding wound that seemed so much part of this country.'
Not a difficult sentiment to identify with when you realize this book was written in 1963, the year of Sylvia Plath's death; London hasn't been as cold and wintery since and surely the presence of a Sylvia in the book no coincidence? A bout of writer's block prompts Grace unusually to accept an invitation to stay with friends for the weekend.... more