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