The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
New Authors. Early in 1959 another new author appeared, Marilyn Duckworth, with a short novel set in London but having a New Zealand girl for protagonist. A Gap in the Spectrum is a study in odd states of mind, almost clinical in its psychological detail. The heroine loses her memory, and searches London to find herself, her parents, her identity. There is a good picture of the loneliness of the big city for one from far away, and a number of striking grotesque episodes, including one in a mental hospital. The heroine's puzzlement, page 110 however, remains a barrier to the reader also, and one is left wondering what, if anything, the novel is about.
The Matchbox House followed in 1960. This is stronger meat. Mrs Dobie, housewife with a baby and a philandering husband, minds the three children of a friend who is ill. Their father visits them weekly. In the neurotic context of Mrs Dobie's manoeuvres to attract him, the story thrashes along. Something is conveyed of the mental and emotional fog which day-to-day coping with insistent children can induce, something is expressed of the nastiness of neurotic obsessions. But the artistic purpose and direction of the book are far from certain. This kind of subject, humourless, and set in the half-light of peripheral states of mind, is one peculiarly difficult to assess. Is this pretentious stuff-and-nonsense, or a genuine attempt to express a "private vision"? By awarding Marilyn Duckworth the Scholarship in Letters for 1961, the New Zealand Literary Fund has indicated its view that these books are of value. (See also chapter eight.)