Noel Hilliard R. A. Copland - Essay

R. A. Copland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)