The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Second Novels. Another group of novelists, working however on a narrower canvas, have endeavoured to "expose ourselves to ourselves". Ian Cross, Redmond Wallis, Marilyn Duckworth, deal more with personal relationships than with social realism. Before discussing them however I will look at some second novels by writers whose first attempts appeared at the end of the 1950s.
M. K. Joseph followed I'll Soldier No More with A Pound of Saffron, 1962, a story of power politics within a university. This is C. P. Snow territory, but Joseph is livelier for a New Zealand reader, partly because he offers us the fun of recognitions, and partly because page 122 he has a wider human range. James Rankin, Professor of European Drama at Auckland, is a clever, cold intellectual who manipulates colleagues, students and civic authorities for his own advancement. The novel leads up to his production of Antony and Cleopatra, a play where the tensions of love and political power mirror the world the actors live in. Beneath the witty satirical surface, crackling dialogue and realistic action of A Pound of Saffron lies a critical confrontation of the values of the head and of the heart. It is Rankin's failure to comprehend the strength of a humane wisdom which brings about his downfall. Readers may have their reservations about some aspects of the novel, especially its literary echoes, but it is first-class serious entertainment.
Ruth France's Ice Cold River, 1961, is a study of a family group under strain. Three generations of Lewises meet at their Canterbury homestead for Christmas, and are isolated by sudden floodwaters. As in The Race, Ruth France is interested in courage, both the active kind shown by those who do, and the passive kind of those—usually women—who must wait, and keep the wheels of our ordinary existence turning meanwhile. Christmas dinner in the marooned household is one of the best things in recent fiction. The Waimakariri River dominates the book, whether it "glimmers in a heat haze" among the shingle channels, or rolls from bank to bank "dizzy and hypnotic". It provides that sense of place and urgent time which gives Ruth France's work a poetic quality. Read it with her poem "After Flood" beside you (in Unwilling Pilgrim, by Paul Henderson).