Monday, 22 February 2016
I had high hopes of this autobiographical coming-of-age novel, published in 1938 by New Zealand writer Robin Hyde, mostly because it's a forthcoming Persephone title. But oh, dear ... it isn't an easy book to read, that's partly her style of writing - too disjointed and self-consciously poetical for me - but also I found it profoundly depressing. Apparently, the author struggled with writing it and I'm afraid that I struggled reading it. It feels like every character is groping through life with one hand tied behind them, that disappointment and loss are somehow pre-ordained. Godwits are birds that migrate north at the end of the New Zealand summer. These New Zealanders are English, but not English. To me, it felt as if New Zealand was suffocating every single one of them None of the men will ever commit - you know in your bones that your illegitimate baby will die and it does - you'll never get to use the lovely things in your bottom drawer - you'll never escape to England and even if you do, you'll die as soon as you get there. And the latter is exactly what happened to Robin Hyde herself who did eventually make it to England but committed suicide in 1939 only months after she arrived.
Eliza Hannay in the novel is Robin Hyde herself. There are wonderful portraits of her mother and Carly, the properly-behaved older sister who aches for marriage but whose 'understanding' with a young man comes to nothing. The failure of her modest Plan B for the rest of her life is heartbreaking ... you feel this opening chasm of desolation, that her life is finished at 24.
I skim-read quite a lot of this book - I very nearly abandoned it because I'd find myself becalmed and bored when it seemed to be going nowhere - and yet in the passages where it came to life, it rather reminded me of Cider with Rosie. Well, only slightly. A joyless Cider with Rosie with little hope of ever walking out one midsummer morning.