Janet Frame Frame, Janet (Vol. 3) - Essay

Frame, Janet (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frame, Janet 1924–

Ms. Frame, a New Zealander, is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. In her cryptic and terrifying fiction, she works out her obsessions with death and madness. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Janet Frame has always been a steady, provocative, thoroughly competent writer whose work remains fairly unknown….

Miss Frame's technique in "Daughter Buffalo" is virtually a novel within a novel, or a dual novel, and within this perilous framework, anathema to the insensitive amateur, she has succeeded admirably, blending complexity with easy humor, prose with poetry. This book could well have been subtitled "Life and Death in the American Novel," being as it is a metaphor for loss. Its theme, however, is less occupied with death than with the life of the imagination (which alone can make any contract with death) and with the power of language—the ultimate veracity of words yet unborn on man's tongue and the tyranny of man's speech. Ostensibly, the novel recounts two stories, told alternately by the two protagonists….

Did they create each other, dream each other? Do we all? Miss Frame, I think, would warn us against conclusiveness until we were certain we could define without speciousness the ineffable qualities of reality and dream and death. Or life.

Barbara Harte, in Best Sellers, October 1, 1972, pp. 297-98.

In this astounding novel [Daughter Buffalo], Janet Frame tackles death in full frontal manner (if death is pornography, I can use the terms of pornography to describe it). To attempt to describe the 'plot' or 'characters' would reduce the work to nonsense or, at least, the utterly bizarre. Ultimately, I think, it is a tone poem or allegory….

While extraordinary, the novel is thoughtful, serious and intelligent in every phrase and every pause. Miss Frame seems to be arguing against the generally accepted Freudian concept that man fights from birth against his all-pervading death-wish. Not denying this concept ("The newly born … having accepted life even they in their unfinished state must begin at once to struggle against death …'), but suggesting that an acceptance, a knowledge and welcoming of death as a completion of life is also an acceptance and knowledge of life itself, of consciousness and of love.

Roger Baker, in Books and Bookmen, July, 1973, pp. 110-11.