Maurice (Gough) Gee Essay - Critical Essays

Gee, Maurice (Gough)


Maurice (Gough) Gee 1931–

New Zealand novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.

Gee, whose writings reflect a strong sense of New Zealand life, was little recognized outside of his native country until the publication of Plumb, winner of the 1978 James Tait Black Memorial Award. Plumb is the first novel of a trilogy that focuses on several generations of the contentious Plumb family. In addition to his skillful development of memorable characters, Gee has created interest in New Zealand's political and social mores.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100.)

Susannah Clapp

Very little happens without deliberation in Maurice Gee's … [Games of Choice]: it comes as no surprise to discover that the "games" of its title are not fun—but more to do with the thwartings and false starts of the hero's life, and his careful consideration of the consequences.

Kingsley Pratt, whose generally gloomy voice grips the narrative, is a provincial New Zealand bookseller, who, having married above his station, finds himself the owner of a luxurious house and a complaining family. The unsatisfactoriness of his wife and children is unvarying, if not entirely comprehensive….

Real meanings behind actions and events are quickly unravelled: gifts are "communication" or possible "revelation"; metaphors are "weapons". These analyses are not without acuteness, but interpretation follows observation so quickly that a sense of what it is that is being interpreted is often drowned out. Kingsley's remark that "relationships seemed to set him on edge or disappoint him" is hardly astonishing: when every move is only an echo of a more profound grisliness—and is clearly seen to be so—the game hardly seems worth playing.

And when it comes to presenting choices the novel hedges its bets. Alison's barbecues and scented bathrooms are set against the life of Kingsley's working-class father, whose smelliness and lack of refinement lead to some improbably open scorn and his banishment to a Wendy-house at the bottom of the garden, where he dreams of revenge and mumbles about the Depression. He is the only other character apart from Kingsley allowed a proper say and when the rest of the family have separately betrayed and fled, he and Kingsley set up house together—a sort of Antipodean Steptoe and son, with Dad watching telly and Kingsley, whose heart lurches at "a perfectly chosen word", reading Keats.

Susannah Clapp, "Grisly Business," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3878, July 9, 1976, p. 860.

John Mellors

Mr Gee is a solemnly earnest writer, but Plumb carries conviction as an honest chronicle of the life and times of a New Zealand family through two generations; many of the facts have been taken from the writings of the author's grandparents. On the last page, his cherished ear-trumpet shattered by the homosexual son with whom he has made an unsuccessful attempt to be reconciled, the old man thinks: 'I'm ready to die, or live, or understand, or love, or whatever it is.'

John Mellors, "Mirror Writing" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1978; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), in The Listener, Vol. 100, No. 2583, October 26, 1978, p. 546.∗

James Burns

[Plumb] is narrated in the first person and tells the story of George Plumb, lawyer, parson and ex-parson who places conscience before career and suffers an unhappy life. Gee discloses that much of the early life of Plumb and his wife is based on the lives of his grandparents.

Father of twelve, Plumb in old age recalls his long life in a series of flashbacks, which unfortunately interrupt the continuity of his story and do little to heighten the tale or hold the attention of the reader, partly because they are too frequent. Plumb attracts trouble: disputes with the Presbyterian Church over theology; a sedition charge which lands him in jail; conflicts with his children…. In the twilight of life he could only confess that he did not understand life.

James Burns, in a review of "Plumb," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 3, Summer, 1979, p. 650.

Angela Huth

Meg, Part Two in the stifling saga of a family called Plumb, is the everyday tale of profoundly dull New Zealand folk….

It isn't Mr Gee's fault that he has no ear for dialogue, but he could at least resist the appalling name-dropping syndrome…. He writes from the mind of his heroine, the earnest Meg, and there he lodges with acute lack of conviction. In desperation he attempts that so-called women novelists' forte, the noticing of the small detail. These details, in his hands, only serve further to labour the story. There is no gusto of any kind.

Angela Huth, "Good Gusto" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1981; reprinted by permission of Angela Huth), in The Listener, Vol. 106, No. 2735, November 12, 1981, p. 584.∗

Fleur Adcock

Maurice Gee's last novel, Plumb, was the story of a New Zealand Presbyterian minister who preached pacifism and socialism, left the church, and was sent to prison for sedition. The narrator of Meg is his daughter, a woman in her early fifties. In using her as a mouthpiece Gee has set himself an even trickier task than that of speaking through her obsessed and unforgiving father, but there are no lapses of style or tone: the narrative voice is consistently convincing.

Meg is the youngest of George Plumb's twelve children, and has grown up emotionally dominated by the family…. Early in the book Meg rejects her romantic, stylized view of them: "I'm grown up now. The Plumbs have a human shape. They're nothing special." But in her retrospective accounts of family gatherings, the central set-pieces of the novel, their humanity is what sets them apart from the less-than-real beings outside the family: "Esther's guests were glittering apes and birds. Only the Plumbs were human."…

Meg's vice is sentimentality. She knows it, and accepts it as a sign of her emotional health, but battles to eliminate it from her literary style, mentally referring phrases to the judgment of her son Raymond, a kind of invisible authorial presence…. She is haunted by a childhood dream of a black river on which the members of her family floated past her, one by one, dead. This, and her youthful concept of the Land of Missing (a...

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Digby Durrant

Maurice Gee's skill is confirmed in Meg, whose story of a family with more than its fair share of misfits, lechers and drunks would be the stuff of soap operas in the hands of a lesser writer. Gee, however, creates a sense of time and place that is beautiful and moving.

Meg, who tells the story is, in the eyes of her family, a prig. Sentimental, censorious, goody-goody; she's their conscience, a born survivor, hard to forgive. (pp. 98-9)

Gee manages to make her oddly likeable, despite everything, and particularly despite his refusal to falsify or suggest a charm that doesn't exist. Even Meg, however, probably wouldn't have survived without the tranquility and beauty of the...

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Carol Rumens

Sole Survivor is the third volume in Maurice Gee's New Zealand saga of the Plumb family. The rise and fall of Duggie Plumb, an ambitious politician, is charted in tones of limpid irony by his cousin, the journalist Raymond Sole, known more familiarly as Raymond or R. Sole. Duggie's wily ruthlessness may originate in childhood trauma (hysterical mother, philandering father), but the point is not laboured; Gee, notwithstanding the raw pun of the title, is a writer of great subtlety….

[Gee's] style is abrupt, nervy, vivid, and the book moves along swiftly, preferring the resonance of the verb to that of the adjective.

Carol Rumens, "Eros and Thanatos in...

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Grace Ingoldby

Outstanding on its own, this story [Sole Survivor] is considerably enriched by the past explored in previous Plumb books. Characters with this much history and development gather their own momentum, creating, as they do so, a picture of the Human Race as circuit not progression. In this trilogy, Gee spans almost a century of New Zealand's history and touches on many a universal truth. Sole, as the title implies, is essentially a survivor, and the book, the Plumb story, ends on an optimistic if poignant note. Gee is surely one of the richest writers around. His strength, like Cleopatra's, is his infinite variety, and he, too, makes hungry where most he satisfies.


(The entire section is 130 words.)

Fleur Adcock

[Sole Survivor] is the final novel in a New Zealand trilogy which began with Plumb, the story of a fierce and egotistical nonconformist minister turned heretic, socialist and pacifist. The second book, Meg, took the family saga forward into the 1960s using the gentler, more tentative voice of George Plumb's favourite daughter. The eponymous narrator of Sole Survivor is her son Raymond Sole…. We watch his progress from boyhood through a shy adolescence haunted by unpredictable erections … and the label "creepy", to middle age as a respected journalist, "ex-puritan and ex-family-freak", temporarily beached in sunny rural isolation with his ex-hippy daughter.

But the...

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Michael Leapman

The equipment required for proper appreciation of "Sole Survivor" includes a familiarity with New Zealand politics since 1950 and a taste for the sordid….

Its perversity lies partly in the name given to the narrator—Raymond Sole, inevitably shortened to R. Sole by his detractors. This crude device encourages the reader to search (vainly) for double entendres in the other names and suggests an allegorical quality the book does not possess.

The story of Sole's lifelong obsession with Duggie Plumb, a bestial school friend who becomes a leading politician, is essentially Grand Guignol. Two characters go mad, and three commit suicide by drowning. There is pederasty, both sorts of...

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