cover image In the Memorial Room

In the Memorial Room

Janet Frame. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $23 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61902-175-4

Prolific New Zealander Frame (An Angel at My Table) wrote this novel in 1974, but embargoed publication during her lifetime. Frame draws on her time in Menton, France, as a Katherine Mansfield Fellow, in portraying historical fiction writer Harry Gill’s travails after being awarded the annual Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship. The award, given in honor of the (fictional) poet Margaret Rose Hurndell, requires him to travel to Menton, where Hurndell once lived. Harry finds himself struggling to turn his good fortune into productivity. He is expected to do his writing in the dilapidated Rose Hurndell Memorial Room, but finds himself unable to complete anything there. Hurndell’s admirers interrupt Harry regularly, and the entire town seems more interested in the idea of having a writer around than in the work itself. While Hurndell’s memory is complacently worshipped, Harry struggles with his eyesight and his general invisibility among the townspeople. In her signature eclectic style, Frame has crafted both a canny commentary on literary fame and hero worship and a heartfelt meditation on what it means to be a writer. (Dec.)