Faces in the Water & Edge of the Alphabet
An omnibus of two early novels
In Faces in the Water (first published in 1961), Janet Frame responded to her doctor's suggestion that 'as I was obviously suffering from the effects of my long stay in hospital in New Zealand, I should write my story of that time to give me a clearer view of my future'. The 'documentary' evolved into an intensely imagined fictionalised account in which Istina Mavet moves in and out of mental hospitals, facing the terrors of electric-shock treatment and the threat of a leucotomy. This riveting novel became an international classic translated into nine languages and has also been used as a medical school text. Doris Lessing was moved to write, 'what an extraordinary woman she is, overcoming such obstacles, and making fresh and good use of them in her work'.
The Edge of the Alphabet is a sequel to Owls Do Cry. Within it, Thora Pattern creates her own fiction about epileptic Toby Withers as he leaves behind the judgements of home. On board a liner for London, he encounters Zoe Bryce and Irishman Pat Keenan. Both Thora (the writer) and Zoe (the lone traveller) echo aspects of Frame herself, though because of a misconstrued identification of the Toby character as her real-life brother, she refused to allow any further reprints. As a result this is the first reissue of that novel since first publication in 1962, when Patrick White was 'knocked sideways' by it and said that Frame 'strikes me as really doing something that nobody else has done'.
Both novels, like her first (Owls Do Cry), draw on the experiences of her early life, but also explore the world of the mind - isolated and inarticulate - and very different ways of leaving the protection and confines of home. Each novel is distinguished by startlingly fresh imagery, beautiful writing and vivid characters and scenes. Both show Janet Frame's wisdom, compassion and genius. This omnibus first published 2005.
Janet Frame was born in Dunedin in 1924. She was the author of eleven novels, five collections of stories, a volume of poetry and a children's book. She was a Burns Scholar and a Sargeson Fellow and won the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters and the Hubert Church Award for Prose. She was made a CBE in 1983 for services to literature, awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from Otago University in 1978, and one from Waikato University in 1992. She received New Zealand's highest civil honour in 1990 when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand. Janet Frame died in January 2004.