Literary Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
#21  AnotherCat 07-01-2020, 12:06 AM
Of a number of things I noticed in the book that might be confusing one I recall was the reference to shopping at "Woolworths". The name has a long history in NZ and Australia (and the UK too, but as far as I know never any relation) and without going through all the gymnastics of its various owners over that time it is, in the main, a supermarket operating company (the most common of several market names in NZ is "Countdown").

But in the 1940s setting of the book it was, in NZ, a chain that sold small and cheap type variety goods such as toys, stationery, kitchenware, beauty items, sweets, etc. The shops were nothing like modern supermarket size and the selection small. Nothing to do with the groceries (except for sweets) that the name is now associated with.

#22  sun surfer 07-02-2020, 01:28 AM
Thanks for all the information on NZ-specific knowledge, AnotherCat. It's very interesting and definitely helps me understand the book better. One other thing I have a question on is toi toi. What is it exactly? I'm listening to the audio so I don't know how it's spelt in the book but I was thinking toi toi or toy toy or something like that.

#23  sun surfer 07-02-2020, 01:31 AM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
So did I until I searched on it!
Great minds think alike! Or in this case, ahem, incorrect minds think alike!

#24  Bookworm_Girl 07-02-2020, 03:21 AM
It is strange to think of Woolworths as a supermarket. I saw it in the news recently - maybe pictures of people waiting outside in lines in the Daily Mail Australia?

We had Woolworths US which then expanded to the UK. It shut down in the US long before the UK. Woolworths was a five and dime general store. We had one at the mall when I was growing up. We liked to go there because it was a special treat to get a Coke Float at the soda fountain counter.

#25  Uncle Robin 07-02-2020, 03:53 AM
Quote sun surfer
Thanks for all the information on NZ-specific knowledge, AnotherCat. It's very interesting and definitely helps me understand the book better. One other thing I have a question on is toi toi. What is it exactly? I'm listening to the audio so I don't know how it's spelt in the book but I was thinking toi toi or toy toy or something like that.
Friends who grew up in NZ taught me to call it "cutty grass", toetoe apparently.

#26  AnotherCat 07-02-2020, 08:42 PM
Quote sun surfer
...One other thing I have a question on is toi toi. What is it exactly? I'm listening to the audio so I don't know how it's spelt in the book but I was thinking toi toi or toy toy or something like that.
Uncle Robin is correct for the native versions, however a couple of varieties of South American pampas grass are widely distributed here (I think in the USA too) and are also usually called, incorrectly, toi toi or toe toe too. Most NZ'ers would be unaware of the difference I think.

I think pampas grass is far more common than the natives in areas that have been developed as farmland or otherwise no longer untouched - it is very invasive and is classed as a noxious weed so cannot be sold or intentionally planted/sown. It was introduced long ago and would have been around when the book is set but I don't know how widely it would have been found in the lower South Island then.

#27  Bookworm_Girl 07-02-2020, 10:33 PM
I also could not understand what toi toi meant. It’s used frequently throughout the book. That makes a lot of sense now with all of the references to nature. I kept having to retrain my brain to associate the holidays with the appropriate seasonal weather for the Southern Hemisphere.

I’m about 70% through the book now (currently reading the Daphne section). I should finish this weekend.

#28  AnotherCat 07-12-2020, 02:06 AM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
...AnotherCat, I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say about what represents typical New Zealand fiction and how this does or doesn't represent that.
I don't really know if there is anything that really typifies NZ fiction except for me it seems very thin on the ground, even keeping in mind the smallness of the country. I think that as far as I am concerned there are really only four NZ authors of fiction that come readily to mind as being of international literary standing for the quality and knowledge of their work. They are (undoubtedly I've forgotten someone):

Ngaio Marsh (crime)
Katherine Mansfield (short stories only though, if I recall correctly)
Margaret Mahy (children and young adult)
Lynley Dodd (children)

Interestingly Ngaio Marsh spent much of her life in the UK and Mansfield spent her short adult life there and Europe too (she left NZ in her late teens); Mansfield I therefore hesitate to claim as a NZ writer, but most NZ'ers seem to "own" her as one ("own" in the grasping context). I don't really know how well known Lynley Dodd is internationally but, for example, her Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy's sales alone are in excess of ten million worldwide now.

So a pretty thin lot for me as far as I am concerned, especially as I don't read children's books or short stories.

Outside of the above there are the the two Booker prize winners (the only NZ ones) who I have never held in any regard; 2013 Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries) and 1985 Keri Hulme (The Bone People). I gave The Bone People a go way back but abandoned it (but I know others claim to like it), and despite Hulme having claimed forever that another book is on the way it has not turned up in the intervening 35 years. Catton wrote one novel before The Luminaries but it was, if I recall correctly, written as a Master's thesis so perhaps doesn't really count as one structured for more general reading, I have read that and thought it mediocre and quite immature (a view shared by many). I have browsed The Luminaries several times (unfortunately I squandered on a copy) and it struck me as plain tiresome - the comment of a book critic here, when asked his view of it in an interview, was "I won't be reading it anytime soon", that I thought fitted my own view. Again I know others claim to like it. In the intervening 7 years another novel has not appeared?

There have been some very popular nonliterary novels locally of which the work of Barry Crump (especially the early ones, the first A Good Keen Man in 1960) has perhaps stood up long enough to have now qualified to have entered, locally at least, the realms of popular literature and are ones I respect. Unfortunately the novels don't seem to be in ebook but they are on every bookshop's shelves in paper.

Crump, perhaps because he seems to avoid it, reminds me of much that I find a problem for me in lesser NZ fiction in that it seems labored and too often to have a habit of wanting to deliver or use to carry the story (in a labored way??) dark societal messages to us, often exaggerated. Albert Wendt's Sons for the Return Home (Wendt I would personally claim as a Samoan writer though) is an example of an exception for me in that while it is seen as critical of some aspects of Samoan society (and disliked by some because of that) which from my own observation I believe does so in an honest and well written manner.

All that aside there has been some excellent non-fiction, a lot is of fauna and flora but that very much compromised by the very narrow variety of and visually dull fauna and flora in NZ (albeit some of it being unique), so mainly of local interest. As in many countries the shelves of bookshops overflow with books about themselves, much poor or mediocre, or repetitive (plagiarized??) but there have been some excellent memoires of farm life/farm histories (though I don't recall any recent ones), plus an internationally recognized authoritative (but very readable) biography of James Cook.

So where does Janet Frame's Owls do Cry sit for me? That to come .

#29  Bookworm_Girl 07-14-2020, 10:10 PM
Thanks for the explanation, AnotherCat. I started to read The Luminaries because it has all the features of a book that sounds interesting to me. I put it aside after about 10% and have not returned to it.

I finished Owls Do Cry last week. The structure was unique from any book that I can recall. The chapters start out with the family view, then goes into each of the siblings and the Epilogue from the Woolen Mill Manager was unexpected. There was the structure of the writing such as the stream of consciousness representative of Daphne's mental illness. Also italics was used for Daphne's view points throughout the chapters until the epilogue.

Identity was a big theme in the book. There was how the characters viewed themselves versus how the world saw them and their struggle to reconcile both. It seemed they tried to escape from how others saw them but weren't successful at it. Chicks could assume a fancy society name (Teresa) and buy materialistic home gadgets but that didn't make her happy. Toby went from people treating him like trash because of his physical illness to dealing in trash. There were also many references to destruction through the novel (burning, fires, letters torn up, death, murders). The epilogue did not have a happy ending on how these characters lives could have turned out!

I'm still thinking about how to interpret the epilogue and the rest of the novel. I'm very interested to hear everyone else's thoughts.

#30  AnotherCat 07-30-2020, 12:26 AM
Well, I will have to add Janet Frame to my very short list of worthy writers of literature . Apart from the prose and story being pretty tidy and readable it also struck me as probably representing well the experiences of the time it is set in.

While it may be unlikely that all the experiences would be found in a single family I felt that taken each alone they were likely typical of those of the time. Apart from drawing on her own experiences such as her time in mental institutions, I felt that maybe some of the small town parochialism in characters was something she had been sensitized to from living overseas in large cities and being an alert observer of the comparisons, an alertness that is often not in many with a smug self centered opinion of this country, even if travelled.

I have read one of her autobiographies, long ago, but remember little of it. Maybe it and others of her novels may get a look-in from me. It has also prompted me to look out Jane Mander's The Story of a New Zealand River written much earlier (1920) and has some reputation and is still in print.

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