“Towards Another Summer” by Janet Frame

“Towards Another Summer” by Janet Frame (2009) – 213 pages

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“Grace was used to not being visited. There was always a flurry of it’s great to know you, then disappointment that the woman who wrote books had difficulty in speaking one coherent sentence, then silence, silence.”

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The same qualities that made Janet Frame a remarkable writer also made it painful for her to live everyday life.  Her relentless objective honesty about herself, her flights of imagination, her obsessive wonder and worry about what others thought about her, and her struggle to reach a visceral depth that was almost beyond words wore her out, especially around others.  “It needed courage to go among people, even for five or ten minutes.”

“Towards Another Summer” was written in the early 1960s, but Frame thought it was too personal to publish during her lifetime.  It was finally published in 2009, five years after her death.

This novel is so personal, a reader can’t help thinking it is about Janet Frame herself rather than Grace Cleave, the main character in the novel.  Grace Cleave is a quite famous novelist living by herself in a small apartment in London having moved from New Zealand.  In one scene the Overseas Service of the BBC radio station asks her for an interview.  The producer and interviewer are expecting an eloquent, elegant young woman novelist.  Instead Grace Cleave with her frizzy too-curly hair shows up.

The producer was crisp, the interviewer efficient. Both had notes. Grace held only a glass of water which she twirled in her hand, answering or not answering the questions, breaking off in mid-sentence, her mind blank. She sighed, repeated Sorry, sorry in a whisper, shaking her head.“—I don’t know, I don’t know. What are my books about? How should I be able to tell? My style? What does it matter?” The interview is finished at last. Humiliated, inarticulate, Grace sat twirling her glass of water. Why couldn’t she speak? Why couldn’t she speak?

I love these short sentences that express so much pain.

The main story of the novel is about Grace Cleave going on a weekend trip to visit the Thirkettle family, husband and wife and two children.  She doesn’t want to go, but she can’t get out of it.  Nothing important happens, but just being around people is a high-wire act for Grace.  She constantly watches every word she says.  Children are almost too much for her.  Every chance she gets she retreats to her room.  In her room she escapes to her memories of her early years in New Zealand.  For me these reminiscences of New Zealand are the weakest part of the novel.   It’s probably somewhat brutish of me, but the parts of the novel that most interested me were her interactions with other people, painful as they are.

So far I’ve read three books by Janet Frame including her autobiography “An Angel at my Table” and another novel, “Faces in the Water”.  I consider “”Towards Another Summer” a worthy addition to the Janet Frame library, because it is so personal, honest, and painful.

To find out more about Janet Frame, go to the dovegreyreader interviews with her niece Pamela Gordon at dovegreyreader asks…Janet Frame  and  dovegreyreader asks…Janet Frame Some More  and dovegreyreader asks…Janet Frame Even More   and Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Oh good one Tony. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only read one by her and that is Living in the Maniototo. I’ve seen Angel at my table. These two experiences have made me want to read more but so far I haven’t managed it. You’ve just reminded me that I should EXCEPT part of me wants to read Living in the Maniototo again!

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  2. Hi WhisperingGums,
    I’m happy you found this post, because I posted it 12 hours before I intended, accidentally hitting the Publish key instead of the Save Draft key.
    I made an exception of my fiction-only rule for ‘Angel at my Table’. As I’m sure you know, this is her autobiography about her eight years in psychiatric hospitals including the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. That autobiography is stronger than most fiction. I got the idea to read ‘Towards Another Summer’ from dovegreyreader’s recent interviews with her niece.

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    • Ah, yes, I have done that too. Slippery fingers eh?

      Yes, I was of course aware that Angel at my table is autobiography, part of a trilogy (although maybe the trilogy is now published under that title too). Autobiographies by such strong writers can be well worth making the exception for, can’t they?

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  3. Thanks for this, Tony, I read Angel at My Table and Envoy from the Mirror City a long time ago and didn’t like them much. I think I should try again with the (a-hem) wisdom of my years to see what it was that I seem to have missed!

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  4. Hi Lisa,
    A long time ago I read Silas Marner and didn’t much care for it – too soap opera-ish, but now George Eliot is one of my favorite authors. I’m trying to dredge up other examples, but they don’t readily come to mind. It is possible for a writer to redeem his or her self. By the same token, a writer I really like can write something that I don’t care for much.

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    • I agree, Tony. There are some books that I loved when I was younger that I don’t want to re-read because I fear I may not like them so much, and then there are others that I initially rejected that beckon from the shelf.
      In reading, as in everything else, it pays to be open-minded and not set in your ways!
      PS I love George Eliot, especially Middlemarch, and I’m sure her novels would stand any amount of re-reading.

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    • Posted by Asiyath on August 20, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      hi actually were doing both Silas Marner and Towards anotherSummer for our A level exams this year! quite frankly i havent started on this book but i did love Silas Marner.. is there any good sites you may know that could help me with the themes in this book?

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      • Hi Asiyath,
        If you google ” ‘Towards Another Summer’ Frame’ you will get many, many reviews of this novel. They aren’t all good, but I see a Guardian review out there, and I’m sure that one would be helpful, and some of the others might be also. Good Luck!

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  5. I really must read some of Janet Frame’s work. In fact when I am next at the library I am going to hunt them out specifically. (I am sure I saw one when I was last there, why I didnt pick it up is a mystery to me!

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  6. Hi Savidgereads,
    I think you will find Janet Frame a one-of-a-kind-writer, the only writer from New Zealand I’ve read. She was one of those vulnerable people who couldn’t put up a ‘front’ for other people.

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