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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Janet Frame's recover and career - a near-miracle

As I'd anticipated Janet Frame does a terrific job w/ the 4th section of her debut novel, Owls Do Cry, section called "Daphne," and obviously the section about Frame and her life; the rest of the novel describes the life courses of the other Withers siblings, but there has been almost no contact w/ the sister who is locked away in a mental hospital - family in fact forbidden to visit her, over the course of years, if you can imagine - and in this section we learn about life in the NZ mental institution in the 1940s (I think) directly from the experience of the author. Here the odd imagery and syntax and the strange juxtapositions of stream of consciousness really pay off and work well as a narrative device because we are reading the account of a truly troubled mind. It's incredibly sad and moving to read about how horrible the diagnoses, treatment, and conditions were for mental patients back in that era - and what's even more astonishing is that one could live to tell the tale. Frame's recovery from her mistreatment - not dwelt on at all in this novel, other than a glancing reference at the end to Daphne's later life working in one of the woolen mills (Daphne does not, as one might suspect, become a writer) - but the fact that the real Daphne lived to become a writer and to tell these tales is a near-miracle. Interesting contrast with the Campion film about Frame's life, based on Frame's 3-vol autobio - which was much gentler and avoidant regarding her medical treatment and also regarding Frame's true mental disability: the Campion v made it seem as if she was mildly depressed w/ some suicidal ideation (and one half-hearted attempt) whereas Frame's own account has her in a complete mental breakdown and w/ complete disassociation and aggression (some maybe a reaction to her mis-treatment?). The very final section of the novel, which obliquely fills us in the later lives of some of the main characters, is a tack-on, but as noted in earlier posts we don't read a novel such as this for narration or plot - clearly, the plot will be episodic, following the events of the lives of the 4 siblings - but we read it for access to the consciousness of others, which this novel provides in abundance.

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