"Stead is the only solipsist here."
Denis Harold has reviewed CK Stead's new collection of 'reviews, replies and reminiscences' in Landfall Review Online (1st July 2016). In Stead's new tome there is an excoriating attack by Stead not just on Janet Frame's last published novel In the Memorial Room, but he also uses the soapbox to cast aspersions on Frame's personality as well as on the integrity of the charitable trust she founded to care for her work after her death.
Now, the vicious undermining of the work and character and heritage of a woman Stead once affected to call 'friend' is no surprise to anyone. He is known to be that kind of backstabber. The smiling assassin type that is apparently so beloved by some of the New Zealand public for some sad reason.
As usual, Stead has had a go at a lot of other targets too, including Ted Hughes and Eleanor Catton. And yet the publicity around his book calls it 'less controversial' than his previous offerings. Bizarrely, this fraudulent claim seems to have been swallowed by most reviewers. On the whole, Stead seems to be taken at his own estimation as he wallows in his own small pond.
In his review, Denis Harold picks out a couple of the false claims Stead makes about Janet Frame. First, Stead says of In the Memorial Room:
"This is a looking-in-darkly rather than a looking-out-bravely novel … which makes surprisingly little, nothing in fact, of the visual lift offered by its Côte d’Azur setting."
"nothing, in fact" !!
Apart from Stead's missing the fact that the protagonist of the novel is actually going blind during the course of the novel so that his not spouting great swathes of purple prose about the delightful scenic environs might in fact be appropriate, it is not true that Frame misses the surroundings. They are there on every page, described as artfully and thoughtfully as ever. The bitter old reviewer is the only one who is blind to the charms of the prose. His aim in calling Frame a 'solipsist' is clear: to discourage anyone from even approaching a Janet Frame novel to find out for themselves what is really there. At least one reviewer has shown himself to take Stead at his word and assume Stead's criticisms of Frame's novel have been 'justified' despite not having read it himself!
And again the question of Frame's Buddhist leanings arises. These leanings are on the record and well authenticated. But it all appears to enrage Stead. I can only laugh at that. He fictionalised her many years ago as a Buddhist and now he regrets that it makes her seem too sane - so he tries to deny it! And claim himself as the Buddhist! If he really did not know of Frame's interest in Buddhism then it shows that he wasn't much of the friend he used to like to claim he was. Or perhaps he has just forgotten.
Links to further reading:
A brief excerpt from Janet Frame's novel In the Memorial Room
Pamela Gordon's response to CK Stead's latest attack on the Frame estate
A collection of quotes from international reviews of In the Memorial Room
'Judge Time' Landfall Review Online