Fay Weldon, author of thirty-four novels at the time this book was written, strikes such a fine balance as she alternates between narrative, perfect dialogue, and metafictional commentary, most of it very funny, that the reader cannot help but become involved on many levels. She makes her writing life sound so intriguing that I found myself playing along, imagining myself as the creator of the dysfunctional characters in “this tale of murder, adultery, incest, ghosts, redemption, and remorse.” Weldon focuses not just on four generations of one family, from seventy-seven-year-old Beverley, three times a widow but not averse to marrying again, to her estranged daughter Alice, her adult grand-daughters Cynara and Scarlett, and her teenage great-granddaughter Lola, along with all their many lovers and husbands. She also focuses on the invisible spirits which have come with Beverley to England from New Zealand, where she grew up (as did the author). These kehua are the Maori spirits of the wandering dead, “adrift from their ancestral home,” charged with “herding stray members of the whanau (extended family) back home so the living and dead can be back together in their spiritual habitation.” They are particularly concerned, in this case, with something that happened to Beverley when she was three years old. Walter, her father, killed Kitchie, her mother, in New Zealand, leaving Beverley an orphan. Despite the novel’s impressionistic structure and lack of predictable chronology, the story moves quickly, at the same time that it also presents a vivid portrait of the author at work. Filled with ironies and understatements, and often hilarious in its dialogue, this novel has something to say about people and their need for connection to the past, at the same time that it can (and should) be read for the pure fun of its characters and point of view. A new addition to my Favorites list. Highly recommended to lovers of literary fiction.
Category Archive for 'New Zealand'
Utu, winner of multiple prizes and set in New Zealand, is dark and full of violence, and depends on the internal conflicts within a country for their dramatic impact and plot. Longstanding resentments between an upper ruling class, and the dispossessed original residents of the country, the Maori, who were conquered during the colonial period, dominate the plot which involves many characters, both white and Maori. The plot becomes so complex that at several points in the novel, the author actually backs up and has a character go over the details so far, to remind himself and the reader about what is happening. Though the novel may be considered by some to be powerful and dramatic, it gains its power largely through its shock value, through the over-the-top reactions of presumably civilized people, well connected to the Auckland mainstream, who are intent on gaining what they want when they want it. While some may consider main character Paul Osborne to be an “anti-hero” (and his actions to represent mainstream “noir”), my own feeling is that there is a difference between the “unsentimental depiction of violence,” one of the main characteristics of noir, and violence for its own sake, which is what I saw here.
In a narrative so hard-hitting that the viewer actually feels battered by the time it reaches its conclusion, a Maori family with five children must deal with urban violence, poverty, drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, gang warfare, rape, physical and mental abuse, suicide, and a host of other horrific family problems, all depicted graphically. Beth and Jake Heke and their five children, along with numerous other Maori families, live in an urban ghetto of government-supported housing, isolated from the rest of society and isolated, too, from their old rural culture, which once gave pride and a sense of identity to Maori families. Here in the city the prevailing “culture” centers around bars, rather than the ancient meeting houses.
I can’t recall when I’ve ever felt so strongly the musical rhythm of an author’s style, or the extent to which it changes to suit the tempo of the action and themes. In the first third of this wonderful book by a very talented writer, conversations between the simple Mary and Granny Tamihana, the guardian of Maori traditions, echo and sound like chants; between Roimata and Hemi, a happily married couple, they resemble duets with complimentary themes. The scene in which Mary gives birth is a grand, complex chorus with the several family members singing over, around, and above each other as they fight for the narrative line. Toko’s story of his big fish is a soaring aria which ventures into a mystical realm, for Toko is a seer. And all this music seems totally appropriate to the lives of these Maori characters living in harmony with the land and their ancestors.
This film of a Maori chieftain’s search for a successor who will keep the rural community’s culture alive is also an appraisal of the culture itself and the values it represents. The community is dying as its young people leave for the city and do not return, except briefly as visitors, and the chief, Koro has no successor. His own firstborn son, Porourangi, who would normally have succeeded him, has left the community after his wife died giving birth to twins–a son who died, and a daughter who lived. Naming the surviving daughter Paikea, after the whale rider who formed the culture a thousand years ago, Porourangi abandons her to the care of her grandmother. This is Paikea’s story as she learns of her heritage.