TO THE IS-LAND by Janet Frame


Email this review


In what is surely only the first installment of an autobiography, taking Frame from birth to secondary-school graduation during WW II, this eccentric novelist (Living in the Maniototo) concentrates on her growing awareness of words: their use, misuse, and re-use. Thus, to young Jean (as she was called at home), her New Zealand upbringing was on an ""is-land"" rather than an island. And Frame suggests that her mis-pronunciations and her eccentric division of words (such as ""Alco Hall"" for alcohol) were fore-shadowings of what she would become: a writer using words in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, however, while focusing on these word-discoveries (childhood friend Poppy introduced her to both ""fuck"" and Keats), Frame fails to shape the often-disturbing material of her everyday life into anything dramatic or coherent: an ex-maid mother; a railroad-man father; an elder sister who drowned; and an epileptic brother, whose condition was viewed in an assortment of primitive ways. (Some thought it incurable; some suggested institutionalization; Frame's father told the boy he could prevent the seizures if he really ""wanted to."") Intermittent vibrancy, then, in the recollection of a child's reaction to the almost talismanic mystery of words--but otherwise a surprisingly fiat memoir, especially considering the oddity (and frequent enchantment) of Frame's distinctive fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1982
Publisher: Braziller