Thursday, August 28, 2008

Between the Covers

Last night it was the time for my regular slot on Channel 9 television's Dunedin Diary programme, hosted by the charming Dougal Stevenson - naturally I grew a big zit on my chin for the occasion.

Here are my notes for the two books I reviewed for the Between the Covers segment, ie the things I intended to say before nerves, memory blanks, questions and conversation interrupted my train of thought in my allotted three minutes.

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

I have a confession to make. This is the first Janet Frame book I have ever read, so I was a little unsure of what to expect, and so pleasantly surprised – I loved this book.

Grace Cleave is an ex-pat New Zealander, suffering writers block, living in London, who accepts an invitation for a weekend away up north with a journalist and his family. Not a lot happens in the way of action, but so much happens within Grace. She is paralysed by anxiety and socially inept, in fact, I ached for her and her often hopeless attempts to fit in with this family. The novel is semi-autobiographical. Janet Frame did spend a weekend with a journalist and his family, but you can see the author is having fun with it. The language and description is rich and amazing. Grace is at times anxious, jealous, self-depreciating and often very funny.

I thought this was a wonderful read, and am glad the Janet Frame Literary Trust moved to have it published. I’ll certainly be reading more of Janet’s work in the future.

Facing the Music: Charles Baeyertz and The Triad by Joanna Woods.

This biography brings back to our attention one of the great characters of Dunedin’s past, who seems to have been lost from our collective memory.

Charles Baeyertz was Australian born, but moved to Dunedin in the late 1800’s and here he set about creating The Triad, a journal devoted to arts, science and music. From the outset he wanted this to be an Australasian magazine which also highlighted the Arts in Europe and America as well.

Charles was a formidable and outspoken man who had no qualms of speaking his mind when reviewing. He famously called Dame Nellie Melba a “mechanical nightingale” and had numerous very public spats with people from Civis in the Otago Daily Times, to American poet Ezra Pound. This was, of course, a huge drawcard for The Triad, which people would buy to see what Baeyertz would say next. He always wanted it to be commercial and aimed it at the masses. Charles was equally lavish with his praise and hugely supportive of the arts in small town New Zealand.

I really enjoyed this biography. Charles Baeyertz was a fascinating man with prodigious energy. It is a very entertaining book and gives a glimpse into an almost forgotten period in our history.


Pamela Gordon said...

I saw you! As ever, you did a great job. And what a lovely coincidence to review Janet's book on the eve of her birthday, just when there was a Channel 9 news item about her New Yorker story and the JFLT annual award coming up minutes after your spot on Dunedin Diary.


Vanda Symon said...

That was serendipitous timing!

I enjoy my little chit chats with Dougal. Glad it's only once a month though.