Noel Hilliard Nicholas Jose - Essay

Nicholas Jose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.