AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE: An Autobiography: Vol. II by Janet Frame

AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE: An Autobiography: Vol. II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the second volume of her autobiography (following To the Is-land, 1982), Frame arrives in the big city--Dunedin, New Zealand--to take up studies at a teachers' college. (The time is 1945.) Her sister Isabel joins her, but even this familiar presence cannot help Jean (as she is then called) from falling into a gradual state of nervous exhaustion. . . a spell that leads, with frightening rapidity, to hospitalization and the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Eight years of institutionalization were to follow; but Frame hardly goes into their specifics (covered fictionally in Faces in the Water)--only mentioning, too-casually, the 200 electro-shock treatments, the ever-present placeless feeling: ""a territory of loneliness which I think resembles that place where the dying spend their time before death and from where those who do return living to the world, bring inevitably a life-long point of view that is a nightmare, a treasure, and a life-long possession: at times I think it must be the best view in the world, ranging even farther than the view from the mountains of love, equal in its rapture and chilling exposure, there in the neighborhood of the ancient gods and goddesses."" Mental torment has rarely been given so vague and even equable a literary treatment; but its horrors--and its consequences for Frame's early writing career--were immense. While in hospital, her first book of stories was published (without a jacket photo, which might have provided her a valuable personal identity); released, she worked as a waitress, barely on society's fringes while already a writer of some growing reputation. This breath-held atmosphere of fragility obtains throughout--making this a truly unusual writer's memoir, more compelling than the first volume. It also leads irresistibly to its successor, as Janet--on a grant--sails for London (where, it's suggested, the diagnosis will be contradicted).

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1984
Publisher: Braziller