Review Blog

Jun 02 2014

In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame

cover image

Text Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781922147134.
(Age: Adult and mature secondary readers). Beautifully produced with a dust-jacket in hardback format, the cover design of Janet Frame's In the Memorial Room enigmatically evokes its title and contents. The Cote d'Azur is reflected in one illustrated spectacle lens, while the other lens is clouded. These hint at several elements of this dense, extraordinary satire.
New Zealand writer, Harry Gill, has won the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, an incestuous award administered by Frame's insufferable minor characters. This award is supposed to be a living memorial to real poet, Margaret Rose Hurndell who lived and worked in Menton, France, where Harry is expected to work in a tomb-like room. Janet Frame also received a Fellowship to France so we can assume that some of Harry's appalling experiences might resemble her own. Some of the award trustees unsubtly signal that their son, Michael, should be the recipient of the Fellowship. He looks much more like a writer and even has an artistic beard.
Partly due to his poor eyesight, Harry is timid and bookish; he misses the best of things and seeks 'intentional invisibility'. Frame's descriptions of his retreat and obliteration using imagery, surrealism and fear-of-hyphens is impressive.
English teachers could incorporate a number of Frame's literary techniques to create lessons or lesson breaks: metonyms, metaphors, similes and anticlimax; speaking or writing primarily using verbs; verbal versus written conversations in real time and deconstructed letter writing.
Joy Lawn

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