The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 2 April 2004

The Carpathians

by Janet Frame

Mattina Brecon is a wealthy woman with little to do in the world but spend her money in travel and real estate and in support of her husband, Jake, who has been thinking about writing a sequel to his great novel for decades. This dense and thought-provoking novel opens as Mattina arrives on Kowhai Street, in the New Zealand town of Puamahara. Mattina's existence does sound a little empty, but she is a thoughtful woman. She is drawn to Puamahara because of the legend of the Memory Flower, a traditional story discovered and now exploited by the town for the tourist trade. Mattina rents a house for two months and proceeds to try to get to know her neighbors. Recently, though, there has also been the discovery of the Gravity Star, a sort of gravitational lens that makes things distant seem near. The mysterious object, unfortunately not very convincingly presented, turns inside out one's perception of reality. Near is far. Up is down. These New Zealand mountains could be the Carpathians. Language begins to lose meaning. Language, indeed, and identity are the themes in this novel. Mattina and her neighbors are tied together and seperated by their language. As the Gravity Star has its affect, language becomes more tenuous and a little frightening. The story becomes more surreal. One neighbor, the Imposter, has written a novel about Mattina already. People come and go and others act mysteriously or even vanish. Mattina's one authentic moment seems to be her visit with the native Maori families nearby. Overall, there is a tenuous connection between the author, the story and any real sense of narrative. The book is often confusing, but just as often compelling. It is hard to encapsulate. Mattina's sense of dread grows. The story of the Memory Flower remains obscure. Language begins to collapse and the world is transformed. Or maybe not. It is an odd story. A strange book.

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Also by Janet Frame: [Living in the Maniototo]

[Other Women Authors]