'Towards Another Summer,' An Outsider Looks In

Towards Another Summer (standard)
Towards Another Summer
By Janet Frame
Hardcover, 218 pages
Counterpoint
List Price: $24

Read An Excerpt.

Janet Frame

Janet Frame is the author of 11 novels. Towards Another Summer is Frame's first novel published posthumously. hide caption

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When New Zealand writer Janet Frame died in 2004, she left behind almost 20 volumes of fiction, poetry, short stories and memoir, along with a giant hole in the literary community. It turns out she also left behind a few works she felt were too personal to publish during her lifetime.

Towards Another Summer is one such novel. Narrator Grace Cleave shares personal characteristics with Frame, including a shock of curly red hair, a New Zealand background, a London address and a diagnosis of mental illness, which Frame previously wrote about in her beloved memoir that was later made into a film, An Angel at My Table.

Towards Another Summer unfolds over one weekend. The normally reclusive Cleave accepts an invitation to spend a holiday with an acquaintance and his family. Ann and Philip and their two children are so normal and loving and warm that Cleave has no idea how to interact with them. When they disagree on a minor matter, she expects violence and tries to "pretend herself into invisibility."

She longs to explain to her hosts that the reason she seems so odd is because she has recently discovered she is not really a person: "I am a migratory bird," she says, perhaps a godwit. It's a consoling thought — if she were a bird it would help explain her failure to connect. She wishes she could fit their expectation of a writer by saying witty and fascinating things, but instead she struggles to complete sentences. She sees the family's quiet domesticity both as alluring and painfully restrictive.

Frame's writing is bird-like, bobbing and hopping around, occasionally building so much momentum it's as if the prose is trying to take flight. Frame wrote and lived with such exquisite sensitivity, even a story about a weekend holiday can, in her hands, be shattering. What makes the loss of Frame's talent a touch less shattering is the unearthing of a work as enthralling and honest as Towards Another Summer.

Excerpt: 'Towards Another Summer'

Towards Another Summer
By Janet Frame
Hardcover, 218 pages
Counterpoint
List Price: $24.00

Upstairs in the attic Grace wondered at the nature of those who allow others to enter a room where their deepest secrets lie.

She sat before Philip's huge desk, considering the drawers and pigeonholes crammed with papers and letters and the Imperial Portable typewriter on the desk with a sheet of paper thrust in it, naked for all the world to see! Somewhere in one of the drawers perhaps Philip's novel lay typed and bound. How could he dare to give a stranger permission to enter this room! Or was this room not the repository of his secrets? Perhaps he himself had no access to his treasures; perhaps he hoarded them elsewhere without ever recognizing them; perhaps he discarded them one by one without ever having known them?

Telling herself that in spite of temptation it is not kind to explore the papers of another whether or not they are admitted secrets, Grace turned her attention to the window which was small, overlooking the golf course and the rigid death-posed trees that stood in their monumental anguish like the thorn trees that are the suicides in hell.

The room, Grace decided, would be a perfect place to write in, although not because of the view, for in writing the studied landscape is not the Holly Road back garden, the Winchley golf course; nor the Old Brompton Road, the car salesroom, the jet cotton-trails in the sky; it is some mysterious place out of the world's depths where the waves are penetrated by the faint gleam of the drowning sun and the last spurts of light escape like tiny sparkling fi sh into the dark folds and ceaselessly moving draperies of the water; it is the inner sea; you may look from every window – in Winchley, London, New Zealand, the World, and never fi nd the Special View. Yet here, in the attic, Grace decided, little effort or encouragement would be needed to draw aside the curtains of the secret window, to smash the glass, enter the View; fearful, hopeful, lonely; disciplining one's breath to meet the demands of the new element; facing again and again the mermaiden's conflict – to go or stay; to return through the window whose one side is a mirror, or inhabit the blood-cave and slowly change from one who gazed at the view to one who is a part or whole of the view itself; and from there (for creation is movement) when all the mirror is a distorted image of oneself, bobbing in the dark waves with stripes of light like silver and gold bars imprisoning one's face and body, to pass beyond the view, beyond oneself to – where? Not to the narrow source that a speck of dust, a full-stop, an insect's foot can block for ever, but to some bountiful coastline with as many waves as beginning fish or sperm before the choice is made, the life decided, and the endowed drop of water shining with its power and pride perfects its lonely hazard under the threat of dust, full-stops, insects' feet; only a multiplicity of wave provides a horizon, a coastline, a land; beyond the view, beyond the narrow vain chosen speck of life to the true source – the boundless billionaire coastline of eternity; from ceaseless rivalries and rhythms and patterns of beginning, to silence and stillness; no wind in the trees – no trees; no sky or people or buildings; to reach there one may need the extreme discipline of breathing: that is, death.

A migratory bird may fly there, Grace thought, and felt herself immediately there with the touch of airless space upon her feathers; in the skyless world she felt neither leaden nor buoyant; where before in the world the wind curved and ruffled her feathers moulding them into subservience, separating their fronds into trembling fountain-shapes through which the sun, believing them to be the movements of water, hung rainbows; where before the wind guided her fl ight or sustained her motionless poise, now a surge of nothing enfolded her feathers, as if a cloud were being knitted to enclose her body; yet there were no boundaries; stone-falling, she would fall for ever; the land was for ever.

She longed to return from the source, the speck, the View, to climb through the glass into the attic, and at once, as in dreaming, she was there, with the desk in front of her, the Imperial Portable typewriter (Mine's an Olivetti, she thought. Philip likes Spaghetti Bolognaise; My brother has never been able to eat egg, for years he has never eaten egg), the golf course and trees through the window. She felt cold. She made a last observation of the room – noting in one corner the rucksacks, windjackets, boots waiting to be used for the Highland Holiday. She remembered Philip's words about a visit to the Highlands soon after he and Anne returned to Great Britain.

—We walked everywhere in those days. Remember our first trip up there? You were carrying Sarah at the time, though you didn't know it.

While Philip was speaking Grace had a sensation of walking upon golden stones beneath slow elephantine shapes of cloud trumpeting their light; then suddenly the vast Highland skies had become close, domestic, confi ned, blue as the best china plate, and Grace felt a movement inside her: Sarah.

In the centre of the attic, piled high, were months and years of literary weeklies and other magazines already brown at the edges, with brown stains on the covers as if Damp (here they talk of him with dread: Damp has got into the house) had come to life and leaned his wet hand upon the paper.

—Now I know where literary weeklies go, Grace thought, with the interest of someone who has solved the problem of flies in winter, pins from a packet, and other such mysteries. A bookshelf near the magazines held Anne's Training College and University books and miscellaneous books belonging to Philip. In this house books had no boundaries; they over flowed, flooded; you had to stand on the roof waving for help, thinking regretfully of your best cherished furniture already ruined by the rising, seeping ideas . . .

—Are you up there, Grace? There's coffee.

—Oh yes, thank you. Coming!

In the tradition of someone leaving a room Grace gave a 'last lingering look' about her; there was an envelope addressed to Philip; typewritten letters, handwritten letters; suddenly she was aware of his life, his activities, letters coming for him, his reading and answering them. I'm not there, she thought. I'm not there. I'm nowhere. She felt the world go dark with sudden exclusion and she was beating her wings against the door of the dark but no one opened the door; indeed, no one heard.

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