A strange, resonant, Nabokov-ian novel about the plight of Harry Gill, a New Zealand writer on a six-month fellowship in France, struggling to write his first imaginative fiction.
Works by Frame (1924-2004), the New Zealand novelist and autobiographer, continue to appear. Never published during her lifetime, this book is marvelous experimental fiction. Up until now, Harry (his name comes from the title of a William Wordsworth poem) has written historical novels. Receiving the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, and admitting he is not funny or adventurous, he sets out to write a “comic novel in the picaresque tradition.” In fact, he is so shy and compliant as to be almost anonymous. Arriving in Menton, expatriates besiege him; they want to possess the recipient of their little fellowship, created to honor a dead writer who worked in the town. The book Harry writes is this one, a journal about trying to find peace and quiet and time to write a book, a comedy of errors both physical and metaphysical. The local doctor Harry visits, afraid that he is going blind and, again, when he goes deaf, is Dr. Rumor. The good doctor opines that Harry’s symptoms are a species of hysteria: He fears going blind because he’s afraid he is invisible. The humor is bone-dry and crackling. Harry, observing his predicament: “One does not always quote fiction as a good example for life but, I told myself, I would never have let this happen in fiction—a man going blind who instead becomes deaf.” Frame’s sentences are marvels, winding like narrow alleys through hill towns: They open spectacular vistas.