Shorter reviews, Gavin McLean

Worlds of Katherine Mansfield
Harry Ricketts (ed),
Nagare Press, Palmerston North, 1991

The last decade’s avalanche of books on Katherine Mansfield and her work makes this slim collection of essays timely, even necessary. Acknowledging that Mansfield has ‘become an industry’, Harry Ricketts has asked six experts to add their smokestacks to this hazy landscape by reporting progress on his or her field of interest. The essays fall into two groups, biographical and literary. Mansfield biographer Gillian Boddy leads off the first set with an assessment of the importance of the forthcoming uncut notebooks and some of the surprises they may contain. Wilhelmina Drummond supplies a psychosocial study of Mansfield’s formative years and David Dowling re-emphasises the influence of A R Orage on her writing. The last three essays are more specifically literary. In ‘Not Epiphanies but Glimpses’, Sarah Sandley explores Mansfield’s ‘glimpses’, those moments in her writing where characters experience sudden and dramatic self-revelation. Carol Franklin rebuffs (quite sensibly) the old charge of Chekovian plagiarism while Stephanie Pride contributes an essay on French symbolism and gender politics that will add more fuel to the fiery debate over sexual orientation. Brief, up-to-date and largely free of jargon, this book will be welcomed by New Zealand literature students and lay readers alike.

 

Dirty Silence: Aspects of Language and Literature in New Zealand
Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1991, $29.95

The remarkable readability of most of the essays in Dirty Silence probably owes something to the fact that they started life as contributions to the University of Waikato’s 1990 Winter Lectures series. Indeed, some of them, notably Bill Manhire’s and Timoti Karetu’s pieces on the ‘impure’ language of poetry and protest haka respectively, still sparkle as if being delivered verbally. Although the volume displays a preoccupation with the current state of written and spoken Maori, variety is provided by essays on the politics of education, gender and the ever controversial Kiwi ‘twang’; Richard Benton’s essay on the roots of Maori and Elizabeth Gordon’s piece on contemporary spoken English provide particularly apt historical scene-setters for the rest. This small book should inform both educators and those dedicated correspondents who fill the Listener’s mail barrel from time to time. The book is indexed and annotated, although it lacks the biographical notes that non-linguists might have appreciated.

 

An Unusually Clumsy Lover
Carin Svensson,
New Women’s Press, Auckland, 1991, $24.95

Sylvia Gould, a young graduate working in pre-crash Auckland, is happy with her lot until she wakes up after the drunken office party unable to remember who attacked her. Was it Harvey Brooke, lecherous owner of the corporate empire for which she works? or Peter, the soft-spoken friend of her workmate Lynette? Or absent boyfriend Tim’s best friend, Dennis, the hard-living personification of the Kiwi Bloke? Carin Svensson takes us through the possibilities, but does more than craft a deceptively compelling whodunnit. Subtly and skilfully, she exposes the inadequacies of the New Zealand male, all of whom live up to the ironic title of the book (except for gay Peter who is simply and rather insultingly asexual). In Sylvia’s patient sifting and resorting of her assumptions and options, Svensson reaffirms a belief in the underlying strength of women.

 

Gavin McLean is a historian with the Historic Places Trust whose most recent book is ‘Shipwrecks and Maritime Disasters’ (Grantham House).

 

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