Noel Hilliard Essay - Critical Essays

Hilliard, Noel


Hilliard, Noel 1929–

A New Zealand novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of children's books, Hilliard draws his themes from the two contrasting strains of New Zealand life: the simple and natural traditions of the Maori people, sharply outlined against the urban complexities of the country's European society. Hilliard avoids sentimentality. His characters are sensitively rendered, his settings and plots treated realistically. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

R. A. Copland

The debate about 'natural' and 'unnatural' has been going on for so many centuries that we may identify an age by the terms in which the debate is conducted….

Mr Hilliard takes up the debate and gives it its modern New Zealand setting [in A Night at Green River]. The Maoris are found to be living the good life as completely as the pakeha ideas of respectability and progress will allow them to…. (p. 401)

If it is sometimes uncomfortable to have a novel so overtly conducting its moral designs upon us, there is at least a worthy tradition to be drawn on. There is, moreover, a compensation in recognizing the high degree of technical skill with which this novel is constructed: its affairs are limited to twenty-four hours, in one place, and along one line of action; impeccably. There is a well-developed rhythm which leads to climaxes not merely in the physical action but in the thematic design as well, the last two big scenes involving a death-struggle and a birth-struggle, the first purgative of relationships, the second nourishing. The whole action is robust and often comic.

Most of the didacticism is oblique, being mediated through character, either as dialogue, or as interior monologue. But by a modulation not always subtle the prose of inward report moves into the prose of authorial assertion…. (p. 403)

This process is at work throughout the novel and leads to passages of extended pleading by the author under the thinnest of dramatic disguises. Character and situation are both largely under control of the reformative intention. The sterility and bad temper of the pakeha household is contrasted in striking simplicity...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

Nicholas Jose

[In Send Somebody Nice], set in New Zealand, Noel Hilliard focuses on small, individual plights which at the same time illustrate the large-scale disorders of his society. His characters are made up of various combinations from the following categories: undereducated, Maoris, delinquent teenagers, communists, homosexuals, prostitutes; and the sensuousness, the nostalgic detail of his earlier collection, A Piece of Land, have been abandoned here in favour of an almost documentary objectivity….

Affectionate concern is the author's attitude to the social victims he describes—the plain unwanted girl, the shy boy forced to strip to be "like our Saviour" by a perverted Sunday school teacher, the half-caste schoolboy who assiduously denies his racial origins—and thus the reforming impulse in the writing is diminished…. [All that is offered] is a generalized paraphrase of everyone's discontent: "And some want new clothes and others want new companions … and a lot want love." Mr Hilliard looks for someone on whom to blame the miseries he has revealed, but no real adversary is forthcoming. There is none of the terrifying subterranean gloom that marks his brilliant compatriot, Janet Frame. For reformers the enemy within is only a second-best enemy: "the only thing they can smash up with confidence and a big chance of success is themselves". Mr Hilliard emerges as a living portraitist of ordinary random things, who fails to deliver them from the remoteness, unyielding yet comfortable, of his and their environment.

Nicholas Jose, "No One to Blame," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3901, December 17, 1976, p. 1593.

J. Burns

[In The Glory and the Dream Noel Hilliard] explores the marriage of a European husband and his Maori spouse, the conflicts, joys and compromises, with tensions increased by the arrival of a baby daughter. Maori and European values come under the microscope, which discloses that attempts to respect each other's cultural values cannot really succeed as long as the couple remain together. The study of two people can scarcely be recognized as an examination of two races, for inevitably differences are more dramatic than similarities; and while not a dissertation against intermarriage, it certainly prompts caution.

Author Hilliard is well known for his short stories and novels over the last twenty years, and with his current work he completes a tetralogy of novels, the earlier ones being Maori Girl (… 1960), Power of Joy (… 1965) and Maori Woman (… 1974). They are of major interest not only to readers of fiction but also to sociologists.

J. Burns, "Perspectives on World Literature: 'The Glory and the Dream'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, p. 353.