Title: The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Author: Joan Stevens

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1966

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Sylvia Johnston

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965

Chapter 8

page 113

Chapter 8

Postscript I : Light Fiction

Judging by work published in 1960-65, the novel seems indeed to be established in New Zealand. Among serious writers there have been new novels that consolidate old reputations (Cross, Frame, Ballan-tyne, Hilliard, Duckworth), while there have been also some memorable first appearances (Pearson, Shadbolt, Wallis, Billing). In light fiction, the upward trend in quality and quantity continues, while there have been some useful extensions of range.

Light Fiction. The bread-and-butter of popular fiction publishing continues to be earned by romantic entertainments aimed at women readers, our earliest and longest-lived type of "exploiting" novel. In it, sheep stations, North and South, are still plentiful; the Maori people still have sales-appeal in plot, title, and jacket design; and a rosy glow of unreality suffuses the "enchanted islands", "long white clouds", "blue remembered hills", and "singing tides" of the exotic country which these tale tellers evoke. History is still with us: sometimes a beautiful girl will "cast a shadow over three generations" in the dear old homestead under the elms; sometimes she has a turbulent life among the Wild Whalers at Port Underwood or Te Awaiti; sometimes she is a waif washed ashore on a raft, and roughs it on the goldfields; sometimes she comes fresh from the Old Country to dwell in a "colonial mansion by an enchanted river", meeting there tattooed Maori chiefs, perils and passion, and finally choosing the stockman for her mate; he proves to be, of course, an Earl.

Romances with contemporary settings are less hackneyed. In these, the heroine takes a job in a country store during her university vacation, boards with a Maori family, and marries "an exciting hermit"; or she runs a guest-house for tourists in Fiordland; or she meets some attractive medico on the Voyage Out, and is later rescued by him after hectic adventures with seducers, deserted whares, and old gravel pits in the pine forests. One or two story spinners still offer the old style heroine, ordered by an eccentric will to come "to the colony" (today!) and marry some unknown bronzed "colonial" who, of course, turns out on her arrival to have other ideas. One heroine, the spoilt child of wealthy, class-conscious parents, falls for the unpretentious man at the service-station; another settles for a country school teacher. Thus is democracy asserted.

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Ring of Truth. Some shrewdly observed local and domestic scenes give a ring of truth to Eva Burfield's The Long Winter, 1964, in which a hitch-hiker's involvement with the family establishes a strong plot. Margot Bennett's heroine Jenny, in That Summer's Earthquake, 1963, shares with her brother in the sheep work (lambing, shearing, dogs, maggots and all) on a Napier run, and falls disastrously in love with the "hired hand" Sam, a drunken swagger with a past. They elope, but the author evades the problems which she has very convincingly posed by ringing down her curtain with the earthquake.

Less acceptable are several popular exploitations of Maori themes: in these the colour question is invariably raised, but handled with sentimental insincerity, or deliberate cheating. In one story, the racial barrier between young Dr Tane and pretty little Gay is removed by the expedient of revealing that he is, after all, of white blood, having been merely "brought up Maori".

New Names. New names among romancers include Doris Addison, Menie Archibald, Marama Brent, Joyce Dingwell, Annette Eyre, Margaret Fenwick, Catherine Hay, Douglas Lord, Sally T. Ollivier, D. M. Owen, Clarice Robertson, Nora Sanderson, Harold Valentine.

A new area has been opened up by several writers who offer the "hospital novel", basically a love story spiced with tonsillectomies, blood transfusions and graver occasions. Will staff nurse Kate elope with Dr Peter? Has Matron really fallen in love with the hospital porter? Who will snap up the youngest house surgeon, or the so-wealthy and handsome accident case in Ward Three? This romantic sub-type offers possibilities, for the closed setting of hospital life promotes that clash of personalities which is the stuff of fiction, while the drama of life and death is a readymade background. Something more than mere entertainment may be made of it yet. Marion Kennedy's melodramatic The Wrong Side of the Door, 1963, is clearly meant to be informative as well as thrilling. It is a first-person story of the training of a psychiatric nurse.

Crime Fiction. Another sub-type flourishing in recent years is the detective story, where we have at least one remarkable success, Simon Jay's Death of a Skin Diver, 1964. This has a tight plot, good writing, and a really knowledgeable exploitation of the New Zealand setting. What could be better ingredients for a local thriller than skindiving, yachting and yachtsmen, expeditions by day and by night on the intricacies of the Waitemata Harbour (with maps), plus some smuggling, some science, some humour, and some murder? Simon Jay is a pseudonym disguising an Auckland pathologist; his amateur page 115 detective is, naturally, also a pathologist, Dr Peter Much, who looks like a winner.

There are several other newcomers to the genre. Ralph Stephenson has an "on-the-run" yarn; Valerie Grayland has tried to establish a Maori detective; Noeline Tarrant sets a lively story among Rotorua weekenders, with boats and a tapu cave as extras. Barbara Cooper, in Target for Malice, 1964, makes an original first thriller out of tensions below the suburban surface of a group of isolated houses. The young married folk involved are well managed, as are the criminal details, the poisoned cat, the social evening, the sleeping pills, the conventional chit-chat, and—not to give the plot away—the milk bottle.

Our most consistent producer of homegrown detection has been Elizabeth Messenger, who has added five titles to her list. The best is A Heap of Trouble, 1963, set in the Bay of Islands. Who used the launch last? Why is Miss Preedy's rockery interesting? Is that a body in the sawdust heap? Elizabeth Messenger also wrote a historical story of the Otago goldfields, based on family papers. Mary Scott and Joyce West continue to collaborate in stories featuring their detective Inspector Wright; the liveliest is Who put it there, 1965, which manipulates the stock devices with competence. Neva Clarke's Behind Closed Doors, 1964, is a modification of the type, a novel of manners that ends in madness and murder. Adrienne Geddes and Bee Baldwin have made a beginning with science fiction set in New Zealand.

Kath. Kath is a girl's name, and also prison slang for an indeterminate sentence. Both kinds of "Kath" threaten the central figure of Keith Henshaw's novel Kath, 1964. The publishers announce this as a suspense thriller, which it certainly is. But it is also as economical and vitriolic a satire on the lower levels of New Zealand life as we have had for a long time. The dialogue is sharp, crude, crackling and recognisable. The setting is real. The little ring of vivid, amoral characters grate upon one another in a fast plot. Vern, Merv and Ne are "chippies" on an Auckland housing construction job, and take to large-scale timber stealing, aided by Nev and nasty little Eric. Kath is the wife of Vern. In spite of the vamped-up horror fantasies of the ending, Kath is an intelligent and memorable evocation of our seamier side.

The sex-and-violence thriller with a historical base is still saleable, it seems, to judge by the continuing issue of stories by Frank Bruno and George Joseph.

Timber and Topdressing. The mystery yarn with a realistic contemporary base has begun to have some importance. Arthur Manning followed up his first venture with Tainted Money, 1963, in which the teller, with stolen money in his care, is involved as both page 116 pursuer and pursued. Effective use is made of professional flying in aerial topdressing work. J. S. Tullett also uses this as the mainspring for a story, Red Abbott, 1964. Bulldozers, chainsaws, logging trucks and union bosses make the plot in White Pine, 1965, though unfortunately there is also a tapu tree and a tohunga. Yellow Streak, 1963, deals with prospecting at the present day in Nelson. These novels are well informed and competently made. Tullett has also published Tar White, 1962, historical fiction very adequately spun from events at the Te Awaiti whaling settlements of 1837. C. Merton Wentworth also discovered useful technical material in Mill Town, 1963, but handled it only at the level of horrific journalese. Unusual matter mishandled is also to be found in Michael Burgess's prison shocker, Mister, 1964.

Recognisable. Some light fiction offers us a picture of contemporary life for its own sake, using amused recognition rather than mystery or drama for its supporting structure. Such are the two novels of R. L. Bacon, In the Sticks, 1963, and Along the Road, 1964, based on the actual tribulations of a solecharge teacher in a remote district. In spite of a tendency to caricature, Bacon is observant, and on the whole unsentimental.

Michael Davis began with a series of farcical sketches, Mutton on the Menu, 1962 (what a Mary Scott title!), but in The Watersiders, 1964, produced a more realistic novel set in the unfamiliar world of the "seagulls" of the Napier wharves, where he worked two years for copy. The authenticity of the book carries it over weaknesses in technique. J. Edward Brown has a real subject, too, in Luck of the Islands, 1963; he tells of a Rarotongan family who come to Auckland. He misses his opportunity however, and presents his Polynesians only in a series of comedy cliches. Barry Crump has continued his headlong hardcase Kiwi career with Hang on a Minute Mate, 1961, One of Us, 1962, Scrapwaggon, 1965, and others. Gordon Dryland's An Absence of Angels, 1965, is a comedy of contemporary life in which the hero, a culture-conscious librarian, is attracted to Angela, model, scriptwriter and ex-wife of a poet. It is a witty exposure of pseudo-artistic circles.

One unpretentious story reminds us of the "preaching" novels of the 1890s. It is His Own Enemy, 1965, by "S.S.", which deserves individual mention here for the sincerity of its purpose and the fidelity of its detail. It tells of the rehabilitation of an alcoholic.

Historical Romances. Among the romances two stand out for their more serious intentions. Margaret Mackay's Amanda, 1963, is an example of our saga of family life, somewhat in the Scanlan tradition. It begins in the 1890s with newly-weds pioneering in the southern high country. Amanda is widowed, the children grow, and page 117 the clan proliferates under the dominance of the Founding Mother. Basically, it is a story of personal relationships, for which historical fact is only a scaffolding rather clumsily erected in blocks of exposition.

Dell Adsett's A Magpie Sings, 1963, is based on life in a small northern farming community in the 1900s. It is handicapped by the size of the canvas, by the author's uncertain management of her angle of presentation, and by lack of a strong narrative line. But the children are real, and there are very lively sketches of local life.

Postscript II: Serious Fiction

The line that divides "light" from "serious" in fiction is difficult to draw firmly. Some of our recent novelists appear now on one side, now on the other. Margaret Jeffery, E. H. Audley, Charles Frances, Pat Booth, Phillip Wilson may be cited.

Margaret Jeffery's Mairangi, 1964, for instance, is clearly to be taken seriously, both for its carefully modulated handling of emotion and eccentricity and for its evocation of atmosphere. Young Judith the heroine and her great-aunt Eulalie are a triumph. Only the over-dramatic stress of the second half of the novel recalls the much lighter fiction with which the author began ten years ago.

Charles Frances's first New Zealand novel, Ask the River, 1964, is a murder mystery. His Johnny Rapana, 1964, on the other hand, is a study of youthful rebellion complicated by racial issues. Johnny, great-grandson of a tohunga of chiefly line, is doubly rootless, for the ancient Maori tradition to which he was born cannot hold him, while the Pakeha world equally fails to offer him a valid image of himself. He cannot find his pride as a man in physical skill, as Dinny Tuhoe the axeman has done. So Johnny leaves the pa for the city, where his tensions as a teenager fuse with those he inherits as a Maori; his tragic decline is well documented and convincing. This is a very uneven novel, but the picture of Johnny's downhill career in Auckland is vigorous and honest.

Moehau. E. H. Audley's two novels are also uneven, but redeemed by their elements of truth and delight. No Boots for Mr Moehau, 1963, is a loving and sensitive achievement, which some hackneyed conventions cannot destroy. Old Mohe Moehau and his wife Hema live at Matarangi, an out-of-the-way Maori settlement on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula. There is fishing, marginal farming and forestry. Audley presents their way of life with humour, a poet's feeling for sands and sea, and an intimate knowledge of Maori behaviour. When Matarangi is threatened by land speculators, he contrives a fairy-tale plot which thwarts the villains just in page 118 time. It is an unforgettable little book. Audley's second novel, A New Gate for Mattie Dulivich, 1965, reiterates the theme, which recalls Finlayson's Tidal Creek, "in this duty to the soil lies our health and our strength". The Yugoslav name in the title led me to hope that Audley would give us a story from that pocket of New Zealand experience which has so far attracted only our short story writers (as in A. E. Batistich's fine collection An Olive Tree in Dalmatia, 1963.) But this thread of interest is soon lost in a very loose story fabric. Perhaps Audley's real metier is the sketch, which he brought off so well in Islands Float at Eleven, 1952.

Boys. Also straddling the dividing line with a pair of novels is R. H. Morrieson. The Scarecrow, 1963, has the vividness conferred by the casual boy-lingo of the narrator Neddy, of a "no-good family" in a small town. The opening sentence indicates the tone and the shock tactics, "The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut." Neddy's narrative whizzes on from there, a jerky and unpredictable mixture between a comedy of errors and a sexual melodrama. In his discussion of it in Islands of Innocence, Holcroft dismisses the rapist "scarecrow" of the title as less terrifying than the "shadow" of the teenage gang, whose underground power is felt to be disturbingly real. Morrieson's second novel, Came a Hot Friday, 1964, is, however, only a fantastic concoction with a nasty taste.

Holcroft notes the connection between The Scarecrow and another novel about the delinquent fringe of boyhood, Norman Harvey's Any Old Dollars, Mister?, 1964. This, also presented through a boy narrator, is a breathless record of amoral enterprise. It appeals, perhaps, because it offers adults the juvenile wickednesses they wish they could have indulged in. It's certainly a hilarious holiday from the pressures of suburban respectability, but in it, too, there are disturbing undercurrents of evil.

And a Girl. Anne Holden's short novel Rata, 1965, is a refreshing change from these. Rata Lovell, child of a Pakeha father and a Maori mother, is an orphan of eleven, living in Wellington in the care of an earnest Pakeha spinster. Lonely and without loyalties, she plays truant, gets deeper into trivial deceptions, and finally runs away (in a vividly rendered journey) to find her Maori relatives in the Urewera country. We have an authentic and perceptive child's-eye view of life in the pa, where she is taken in without question; her half blood however makes her sharply aware of social differences, and the book closes on her decision to accept the self which the Pakeha world offers her. Rata is an unpretentious book, truthful and simple.

Mixed Bag. The work of Phillip Wilson is difficult to assess. His short stories {Some are Lucky, 1960) reveal him as a serious artist, page 119 but none of his three novels is fully satisfying. Beneath the Thunder, 1963, studies a post-war marriage in a rehabilitation farm settlement in the Waikato. Pete, who has had a bad war, is at odds with his wife Glenda, and retreats to an intrigue with Poppy, wife of his Maori neighbour Joe. A bush journey, a burning house and a thunderstorm bring the drama to exploding point. Ultimately Pete breaks through to his "still centre", and there is hope that the adoption of his child by Poppy will redeem his sterile marriage. Pacific Flight, 1964, studies another love triangle exposed to war stress. The Outcasts, 1965, exploits rather over-emphatically the theme of colour.

Pat Booth's work also is variable. His Long Night Among the Stars, 1961, set in Australia, was a prize-winner in the Otago Daily Times centennial competition; Footsteps in the Sea, 1964, is an onslaught on New Zealand small town life, written with a zestful exaggeration that is reminiscent of John Guthrie's The Little Country. Dick Brenton, returning after five years' absence in Malaya, "sees ourselves as others see us". Booth lashes out in many directions at once; the RSA, the JCs, the football club, Rotary, the pub, and the local "ladies" all come in for attacks so savage that when in the end Brenton finds himself at one with his fellow citizens in a sequence of violent action, it is difficult to accept his acceptance. "He sneered at their standards, but would coast with them." Booth's third story, Dear Chevvy, 1965, is a lively entertainment about vintage cars.

Small Town. Several writers besides Booth have satirised our small towns. David Ballantyne, who has been silent on New Zealand matters since 1948, launched an attack in The Last Pioneer, 1963. He brings to Mahuta a London widower with a six-year-old son, and involves him in community and personal dilemmas. Ballantyne's intention is to expose the shortcomings of our casual, beery, and unsatisfying way of life. Unfortunately the enveloping matey boredom that is evoked tends to stifle the reader as well as the hero. "Fiction is more than fidelity," says R. A. Copland in his review in Landfall, June 1963, "and the privilege demanded by a reader is that of having the social facts refashioned within a critical and philosophical imagination." In spite of its humour and keen observation, The Last Pioneer does not lift the reader in this way.

Maurice Gee's The Big Season, 1962, is also full of "ordinary jokers". Its centrepiece is the United Football Club; Rob Andrews, fullback, is a local variant of David Storey's sporting hero, while the lingo spoken is sub-Sargeson modernised. But Rob finds little meaning in the bourgeois round of booze and bawdy which is all his family, friends and town can offer; he rejects them all, football included, for the spontaneous companionship of a safe-breaker and a tart. This page 120 novel has its subtle ironies, but perhaps Gee is neither angry nor rude enough to take his satire to its logical conclusions. A second novel, A Special Flower, has just appeared (1965).

Coal Flat. Our most comprehensive study of an ingrown township is Bill Pearson's Coal Flat, 1963, which Charles Brasch described in Landfall, June 1964, as "the richest and strongest work of its kind yet to appear in New Zealand". It is interesting now to reread Pearson's article "Fretful Sleepers", originally written in 1952 from the relative detachment of his years in London. (It is reprinted in {Landfall Country, 1962.)

In this prejudiced piece of sociology, Pearson analyses "with un-appeased resentment" the little country he had just escaped from. He expresses here the attitudes from which the novel was later to grow. I quote some remarks: "There is no place in normal New Zealand society for the man who is different." "We need an art to expose ourselves, explain ourselves to ourselves, see ourselves in a perspective of time and place." "No artist can work without an audience willing to co-operate: if he is to be honest his audience must be honest; they must be prepared to speculate about themselves. This is something New Zealanders will not do." "There is a paucity of common experience ... a need for a common experience to talk from, and the need for conventions to account for and place emotions unrecognised in the threadbare constitution of social behaviour."

These are the words of 1952. I believe that in the thirteen years since, artists have established such conventions and located our common experience, that the art has been found which can show ourselves to ourselves, and that both writers and readers are more honest than they were. Pearson's own novel is a measure of the change. Like The Story of a New Zealand River and Man Alone, it is a challenge to our sincerity and intelligence, a fictional embodiment of his gritty social analysis.

Pearson takes a West Coast mining township, admirable for his purpose because it is small, isolated by geography and social tradition, and with a strongly marked individuality. Such a town is manageable within the compass of a novel, and offers a microcosm of New Zealand life.

There are the pub, the school, and the dance hall; there are doctors, publicans, teachers, priests, housewives; there are the main road, the railway, the creek, the dredge, the water-races, the cicadas, the blackberries. And dominating all is the mine, with its union and its politics, and its workers who balance the more usual middle-class preoccupations of our satirists. Pearson chooses this community for a study which is to "expose ourselves to ourselves".

His method is orthodox and ample; bring to the town an outsider: page 121 let him, and through him the reader, explore its personalities, reticences and tensions; let his inexperience and honesty slice into accepted patterns, promote conflicts, and expose latent truths; and finally let his actions in the resolution of the plot bring sharply before the reader the personal and social problems of our time. At the end, the hero will withdraw, so that the reader can pull out too, and think it over.

Coal Flat tells, then, of Paul Rogers, a Coaster who is "different" because of his education and his stand as a conscientious objector. He is haunted by a sense of guilt, however, since he did not stick to his conchy principles after all; with an urge to atone to society in some unspecified way, he arrives one February morning to take up a post at the school. In the year that follows, he is tested as an idealist, as a socialist, as a lover, and as a teacher. By November, it is clear that he has failed in everything except his personal relationship to Flora Palmer. The school, the mining community, the church, the ordinary families, are impervious to change. The boy he would have helped is back where he was. The miners have learnt nothing from the boycott and the strike. Social attitudes are unaltered. The town wins, and settles back unmodified, as the closing paragraph suggests.

Paul gives up, and takes Flora away: "I can't stay here. I'm out of place. The town isn't with me . . . I've got to start in another place . . . I'll be a safe conforming suburban backgardener . . . boasting of beancrops over the back fence . . . I'll steer clear of ideas. I'll be just another suburban New Zealander . . . and I'll go for the job and the family and the house and the garden."

It is a pessimistic view of ourselves that Pearson offers, and the reader will probably want to argue with him. The town "let Paul down", it is true; but how valid are Paul's ideas, anyway? Much of the novel centres on this problem of loyalty, to people, to class, to principles, to friends. Paul's story raises in acute form problems we have all had to face.

(Notes for a critical discussion will be found in the Appendix.)

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).

Recognitions. From its opening sentence, Noel Hilliard's Power of Joy, 1965, brings many delights of recognition. We all of us remember some creek, pool, tree or flaxbush which represented in childhood our escape from the hostile or puzzling world; we remember books which brought merciful oblivion, Chums or Huckleberry Finn. In later life, too, most of us have encountered writers who tried to get on to paper "the moments of vision" which these experiences gave, Dylan Thomas recorded them in "Fern Hill", and Wordsworth in his Ode; They appear in the work of Forrest Reid, and William Golding. It is these elements which we recognise in Power of Joy.

This is not to suggest that Hilliard is imitating; on the contrary, he is presenting a significant experience, shared with others in the context of this time and country; it is in New Zealand that the "moments of vision" have come, and it is in terms of a New Zealand boyhood that he expresses them.

The story is of Paul, a solitary five-year-old, son of a complaining slattern and her on-the-dole husband, in one of the abandoned railway camps of the Depression years. Paul is a "loner". His approach to people alternates with retreat from them, retreat into a private world page 123 he has discovered in the bush. This withdrawal is the problem and the process of his growth. The sense of order and balance in life which he derives from his secret world becomes concentrated in the image of a tree, manuka, puriri, willow, or macrocarpa, something climbable that offers a private lookout over time and space. As he moves to maturity, his secret tree becomes his refuge, symbol of "a natural reality . . . readiness simply to be". Nevertheless, it restricts his full humanity, and not until he can resolve the split between his "spiritual individuality" and the need to be "one of the many" can he move maturely out into the world of work and love.

This choice of a tree symbol is excellent. The trees, river and hills in Power of Joy are as actual and as deeply observed as Hilliard's accurate bush lore can make them, but in addition, the tree is a brilliant image of that "Heaven (which) lies about us in our infancy". William Golding once wrote about his own experience: "There is something about a tree which appeals not to a vestigial instinct but to the most human, if you like the highest, in a child . . . Everything else has been shaped, touched, used and understood, plumbed, by powerful adults. But a tree lifts its fork above them, ramifies in secret. There is in a tree only a yard or two above your head, that which is most precious to a small boy; an unvisited place, never seen before, never touched by the hand of man. This chestnut tree was my escape." Young Paul's "escape", then, is the focal point of a fine novel.

Power of Joy has the structural discipline of its narrow range; trivial but formative incidents acquire resonance as time passes, providing a texture of reality within which moves a very believable boy. The lyric mood is well sustained, and is no aery-faery stuff, but rooted in specific and salty actualities. The prose is modulated skilfully to keep us at the boy's viewpoint, and has many felicities of observation and style. There are weaknesses; the school dance, for instance is only ordinary, and that too-perfect classroom run by Mr Simmons; but these are balanced by the grim conviction of the Stonehurst brutalities. In his next novel perhaps Hilliard will tackle a wider subject; meanwhile, Power of Joy has greatly advanced his reputation.

Affairs of Men. Errol Brathwaite has published four novels since Fear in the Night. He won the Otago Daily Times competition with An Affair of Men, 1961, in which a Japanese patrol searches for Allied airmen shot down in the Solomon Islands. Captain Itoh is blocked in his efforts by Sedu, headman of a native Christian community. The "affair" between them exploits conflict and suspense at both moral and physical levels. This novel was followed in 1964 by Long Way Home. Here, too, there is an "affair of men", the drama of searchers and rescued in a mountain aircrash in the South Island. This novel was Brathwaite's first attempt, it seems, and already shows the lines of his development, his economy of characterisation, his page 124 familiarity with technical processes, gadgets, and skills, and his interest in the belief and behaviour of men on their own. His fourth novel, The Flying Fish, 1964, pursues the same matters in a historical setting, that of the Taranaki wars of the 1860s.

Perhaps of all our subjects this of the Maori wars is the most intractable, and in spite of fine gifts as a novelist Brathwaite has not quite conquered the ground. He follows the career of a settler, Phipps, who joins von Tempsky's commando unit; through a Maori friend Matiu, we enter rather shallowly the Maori experience. The strength of The Flying Fish lies in its handling of military detail—weapons, strategy, manoeuvre in manuka groves and flaxswamps, stockade and homestead. The reader begins to realise what these indeterminate skirmishes felt like to those who lived through them. Brathwaite makes a genuine imaginative penetration into material that usually stimulates our writers only to romantic rhetoric or fiendish bloodbaths. The historical basis of the book is discussed by Dennis McEldowney in Landfall, December 1964.

Brathwaite has now followed it with the second of the planned trilogy, The Needle's Eye, 1965, which takes Major Williams, a minor personage in the first volume, into the Waikato war of 1863-1864. The military detail is again authoritative, and Brathwaite develops further the theme of the moral and personal problems men meet in these "affairs". His work in these two novels represents a real advance in our serious historical fiction.

Honest. To return to writers on personal relationships who, to use Bill Pearson's phrase, need an honest audience if they are to write honestly. Ian Cross, in After Anzac Day, 1961, certainly attempts to "explain ourselves to ourselves", and asks us to follow his investigations sympathetically. In a technique which cuts the past constantly into the present, he tries to comprehend the contradictions of both and the effect they have upon the lives of his characters. Four persons create the drama. John Rankin and his wife Margaret; Jennie Page, a part-Maori typist; and Margaret's eccentric, dying father, Creighton. Jennie is pregnant to a boy away on an overseas ship, and has been offered shelter by Rankin out of some obscure sense of guilt related to her colour and to our colonial history. The story is of the deepening currents of misunderstanding among the four, against the background of the Public Service and the waterfront strike of 1951. Not all readers will accept the New Zealand pictured here.

Personal Relationships. Three novels of 1962-3 may be grouped together as remarkably plainspoken studies of personal relationships among the young. They are Point of Origin, 1962, by Redmond Wallis; As Short a Spring, 1963, by R. Casey; and A Barbarous Tongue, 1963, by Marilyn Duckworth. The first two are page 125 set in Christchurch, the third in Wellington and Dunedin, at the present day. All three are linked in manner and preoccupations with the contemporary British and American novel about the educated delinquent fringe, evoking the bar and the coffee-bar world of beards and jeans. Casey's novel has a crackling zest, but not enough discipline to shape his bubbling ideas. His student hero zooms from one disaster to the next; he fails his exams, drops the china, falls in love, gets mixed up in a hospital ward. There's a character called Lieutenant Snoughlleby-Gadzer, and a very real and likeable heroine, too good for the fictional company she keeps. "A handyman's attempt at Lucky Jimmery" is one reviewer's comment {Landfall, March 1964).

Wallis's Point of Origin has the same surface glitter, but more depth. Its affinity is with the novels of Iris Murdoch, with philosophical explorations embodied in personal relationships and brought to focus in a detailed sequence of dangerous action. Peter Hennessy, a working hero with a gift for mechanical inventions, meets Gillian Sedgley, of one of the Canterbury families "off the first four boats". In their love story Wallis studies our traditional sexual codes, our class frictions, and the meaning of existence for the contemporary young unbeliever. He expects his readers to be literate and prepared "to speculate about themselves"; those who are will be well rewarded.

Tough to Take. Much the most sophisticated of the three and the toughest is Marilyn Duckworth's A Barbarous Tongue. It has less optimism, and its dialogue and characters carry such conviction that the story hurts as it would do in real life. It tells of nineteen-year-old Frieda. She flats in Wellington with "poor Thelma", sleeps with John who is only temporarily diverted from his obsession with his cancerous dying sister Barbara, goes to Dunedin when her pregnancy is realised, and is sheltered, also temporarily, by older, one-armed Austin in his bachelor flat. There Barbara joins her, and John, in crowded tragicomic chaos. In a brilliant sequence, Frieda's baby arrives. After Barbara's death, John marries Frieda, but is never hers emotionally, and soon abandons her. Austin, too, is only "half a man", as his missing arm suggests, but he believes in selfhelp, and turns Frieda out, baby and all. We end as she begins at last to assume responsibility for her own life. The title is from Yeats:

But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

This suggests that the narrator is old, but since Frieda, the "I" of the story, is young, the symbolism is vague. Obviously Barbara's name too, is intended to have symbolic resonance. These suggestions of depth are however not over-emphasised, merely lying in wait for the page 126 the reader under the turbulent surface of reality which Marilyn Duckworth offers.

Comparable in the attitudes studied, though not in its level of competence, is Jean Watson's Stand in the Rain, 1965, a feminine counterpart to Barry Crump's yarns.

Short Story to Novel. Several of our novelists began with the short story. Frank Sargeson comes to mind, Davin, Courage, and Janet Frame. This may or may not be an advantage, because skill in the shorter length is not always transferable. Perhaps this difficulty explains why we have not yet had novels from two of our finest story writers, O. E. Middleton and Maurice Duggan. The question arises in connection with Maurice Shadbolt's Among the Cinders, 1965, which is not without dull patches between its episodes. Shadbolt's Nick Flinders relates his own story of the "fire" of trouble that leaves him, if not seared, at least "among the cinders" in the last chapter.

Nick is that familiar (too familiar?) New Zealand figure, the disturbed teenager, and he takes to the bush, as perhaps readers will guess. Grandfather Ben—another familiar figure—goes with him, a cantankerous old romantic in search of his lost youth in goldfields, gumdiggings and milling camps. Nick is driven to flight by his unanalysed sense of guilt, which has been brought to the fore by contact with a notorious local murder of parents by sons, and by his own accidental killing of his Maori "blood-brother", Sam. This is the fire, we take it. Nick's subsequent rejection of his parents and real brother, his throwback to the primitive rituals of manhood with Ben, and his initiatory escapades with sex and drink, bring him full circle to a more mature attitude to society.

Nick's reiterated phrase is "to tell the truth": but what is the truth? "There's truth and there's real truth, if you know what I mean." The reader is given only the facts, and has to establish the "real truth" for himself, a point underlined by the surprising twist given to it all in chapter twenty-eight.

Among the Cinders has fine qualities, but raises niggling doubts; neither its central conception nor its picaresque sequences are new, the style is sometimes uncertain, and the book is longer than its content really warrants. As a short-story man Shadbolt has been deservedly successful, and his second attempt at a novel will be welcomed.

Write to Survive. The major novelist of our 1960s is undoubtedly Janet Frame, who followed Owls Do Cry with Faces in the Water, 1961, The Edge of the Alphabet, 1962, Scented Gardens for the Blind, 1963, and The Adaptable Man, 1965. The last is set in England.

Essential to an understanding of Janet Frame's achievement is her autobiographical essay in Landfall, March 1965, in the series "Begin- page 127 nings". She writes there of the early absorption in writing which she shared with her sisters. "There were tragic happenings in our family. Sometimes ... we would console ourselves by remembering the Brontes . . . With a background of poverty, drunkenness, attempted murder and near-madness, it was inevitable that we should feel close to the Brontes."

This confession brings a major critical illumination, as readers who know the Bronte story will recognise. The Frame girls chose a Bronte each; Janet was Charlotte. The imaginary worlds of Angria and Gondal in which the Brontes lived as children, writing endless wild sagas peopled with their fantasies, brought destruction to Branwell and near-destruction to Emily. Charlotte turned her back on "that world" and made her way into the world of reality only with difficulty. Janet Frame, however, came to live increasingly and dangerously in her imaginary world, and in her early twenties suffered a mental breakdown from the strain of attempts to conform to normal life. She spent some eight years in hospitals. When the therapy was suggested to her of "making designs from my dreams", she wrote The Lagoon and Owls Do Cry. A Literary Fund grant took her overseas. After another breakdown she consulted an English doctor, whose advice she records—"Why mix? Why conform? I think you need to write to survive. First write the story of your years in hospital, then keep on writing."

Designs from Dreams. Faces in the Water is the first product of that commandment. It is a documentary not a novel, but in the context this hardly matters. Istina Mavet, a made-up character with a made-up name, spends three separate periods in hospitals in both Islands. The horror of her experience is brought home to us unbearably, partly by factual reporting and partly by an understructure of symbolism. The picture is of Inferno, in which there is no communication between beings imprisoned in themselves, and no hope of salvation.

The Edge of the Alphabet takes up the story of Toby Withers, the epileptic son in Owls Do Cry. The title points to another passage in Janet Frame's essay, "In my family words were revered as instruments of magic." The novel is set as the manuscript of Thora Pattern ("I . . . live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow ... or show luminous.") Thora makes "a journey of discovery through the lives of three people, Toby, Zoe, Pat", of whom the first two also live "at the edge of the alphabet" where human beings have lost the power to communicate. Toby and Zoe meet on a passenger ship to England (satirised with relish), and in London come upon Pat, a bus driver. But Pat cannot help them to cross from "that" world to his normal one. Zoe kills herself. Pat changes his job, becoming a "stationery supervisor in a large store", page 128 where blank pages speak to no one. Toby returns to New Zealand. And Thora, who has written this story in her "secret writing", decides she must stop and begin to live outside it. But she too is unable to communicate in the normal world: "One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech. Meanwhile our lives are solitary." Perhaps the key to this extraordinary, haunting book is the poetic passage in italics in the third section of Part One. I quote the ending:

Will Time publish us too as grotesque, purposeless,
beyond the range of human language, between the pages of ice
turned and torn uncuriously by the illiterate years
till our story is sealed at last
till no human mind remains to trace
the compelling reason,
the marginal dream?

The writing in this novel has a more subtle imaginative sharpness than anything we have had for years; look, for instance, at the last paragraph of Section twenty-seven in Part Three, describing Zoe's winter in London.

Marginal Dream. Scented Gardens for the Blind, which springs from the same "marginal dream", is both less poetic and less realistic. Its world is wholly imaginary, with insistent symbols that come from deep down in Janet Frame's submerged experience. As a child of three, she records, she made up her first story. "Once upon a time there was a bird. One day a hawk came out of the sky and ate the bird. The next day a big bogie came out from behind the hill and ate up the hawk for eating up the bird."

The hawk is fate, necessity, vengeance, what you will, an image of disaster like the atomic bomb that explodes in her last chapter. And "when there are no human beings left on earth, who will name the ashes?"

Scented Gardens is about words, about sight and blindness, hearing and speech, about hallucination and reality. Three "characters" occupy the stage, blind Vera Glace (true mirror?), her daughter Erlene who is dumb, her husband Edward. He is a genealogist whose investigation of the Strang family (Strong?) is designed to prove that they will outlive disaster.

In turn each character takes the stage, but little is clarified at the rational level. Is Vera blind, or not? Is Erlene really dumb? Who is Uncle Black Beetle whom she talks to, on the windowsill? Is he the same as the psychiatrist, Dr Clapper? There are no plain answers; this is a book for individual struggle. Perhaps the starting point in a search for its meaning is Chapter eleven, in which Erlene's conversation with Doctor-Uncle-Clapper-Beetle takes us to the dictionary. One can live in it, it seems, in various apartments, "between speech and page 129 spell", or "between spectre and spindrift, between spark and spirit, seem and sprout, seek and spy, seed and squander, science and stone." Or perhaps, in "a forest in the neighbourhood of flock, flood, foliage, forgiveness and fountain."

Sargeson. The issue of Frank Sargeson's Collected Stories in 1964 brought one of our best known elders back into circulation, and evoked both tributes to the force of his achievement and regrets that we had not had a novel since 1949. "I like him," wrote E. M. Forster, "because he believes in the unsmart, the unregulated and the affectionate." Now there is announced a new novel, Memoirs of a Peon, which its publishers claim as a "contemporary Tom Jones". It is set in Auckland and the Waikato, and is narrated by its protagonist, Michael Newhouse (Casanova, obviously). From what we know of Fielding, Casanova, and Sargeson, we can expect strength and subtlety. (An autobiographical essay in the series "Beginnings" appeared in Landfall, June 1965.)

Antarctica. The year 1965 has produced one first novel of remarkable quality, Graham Billing's Forbush and the Penguins. Billing is a journalist and broadcaster, as well as an ex-Merchant Navy man. In September 1963, Landfall published extracts, "unpolished", from his Ross Sea Journal, kept during a summer in Antarctica. He had travelled widely in the Ross Dependency in 1962 with the photographer Guy Mannering, with whom he collaborated in the illustrated volume South published for the Antarctic Division of the D.S.I.R.

His Ross Sea Journal is the direct expression of an imaginative penetration into the Antarctic experience. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I feel completely wordless. I'm responding very deeply to all that is happening and perhaps that is the reason." "I absorb the cold like a sponge ... I feel translated into another substance, impressed with another spirit, immersed in another medium of darkness."

Several passages record the moments from which the novel was born. "Truly strange and disturbing, strange forces stirring in the mind, strange sights seen and sounds heard." "I see a penguin chick almost grown, recently dead, a red hole in his neck where a skua gull has attacked and fed. I lie down on the guano and take a photograph of the dead bird, the blood, the rookery; and beyond, the people, the boat, the ice, the long inlet, the glaciers, the mountains, rock, grey mist, the icebergs stranded in the bay."

The Journal made it clear that here was an Antarctic adventurer with a poet's eye and a turn for metaphysics. That he should also prove to be a novelist is good fortune. Forbush and the Penguins page 130 poses, embodied in a concrete experience, the problems of our kind of Age of Discovery.

Forbush is a biologist who spends the southern summer studying the Adelie Penguins at Cape Royds. Isolation and cold assail his sense of reality; to reaffirm it he exercises human skills; he plays the clarinet, talks to himself, and invents a "Penguin Major Polyphonic Music Machine" made from Shackleton's sauce-bottles, a frozen potato, a toaster, and a toy rabbit. He survives a blizzard. (This is a sequence notable for the tension derived from accumulated detail.) He watches the penguins arrive at the rookery, and the miracles of life and of death that come with them.

Behind all this lies the insistent question, bared to its essentials by the implacability of the Antarctic. What is the significance of life? Are we not all victims? "What is the answer? There is no answer."

The novel makes at the end some affirmation of belief, but it is hardly won. The book closes with a deeply felt description of the freezing of the sea in early March, as the relentless period of the dark and cold returns. Compare this fine passage with the Journal entry for 18 February, and with the colour photographs in South.

(Notes for a critical discussion will be found in the Appendix.)

Native, Tough. These, then, are the achievements of the last five years. They are, I believe, sufficiently varied in range and high in quality to justify the claim made in 1960 (at the end of chapter seven), that the New Zealand novel "is a native, tough, resilient, and . . . doing well."

(Topics for study and discussion will be found in the Appendix.)