Friday, August 15, 2008

Night thoughts

Lying awake at three in the morning, ill, I put an earphone
in my ear and pick up Radio New Zealand National as a
short story is being read. For a few minutes it becomes my
world in the darkness. Who can this story be by? It seems
to be about a picnic by a river or lake—Mum, Dad and two
boys, called Les and Sid. It has the unmistakable tone of
writing by a particular kind of male New Zealand writer,
a style you might call blokish, in which there are gaps and
silences between emotions and their meanings. I think
first of A P Gaskell; then O E Middleton. Eventually I come
round to thinking that it must be Owen Marshall. But it
turns out my first guess was right: the story is “The Ghost
of Christmas Past” by Gaskell. The curious thing is that I’ve
never read Gaskell. This is not a boast—if anything it’s an
indictment of my superficial acquaintance with much of
New Zealand literature—but it does suggest that the whole
genre of the New Zealand short story is small enough for its
major writers’ styles to be readily identifiable by someone
with a scattering of knowledge about it. If there's a point to
this anecdote, by the way, I'm not yet sure what it is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did the opposite recently - I was convinced a ss I had stumbled on half-way through was by Charlotte Grimshaw, but turned out it was by (usually poet) David Eggleton - can you imagine two more disparate NZ writers?