Wrestling With The Angel: A life of Janet Frame - Michael King

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Janet Frame, born in 1924, is New Zealand's most celebrated and least public authors. Her early life in small South Island towns seemed, at times, engulfed in a tide of doom: one brother stillborn, another epileptic - two sisters dead of heart failure while swimming - Frame herself committed to mental hospitals for the best part of a decade. Later, her surviving sister was temporarily felled in adulthood by a stroke, an uncle cut his throat and a cousin shot his lover, his lover's parents and then himself.

All this propelled Frame into a territory resembling that 'where the dying spend their time before death'. Those who return alive from such a place, she would say, bring a point of view 'equal in its rapture and chilling exposure [to] the neighbourhood of the gods and goddesses'.

This, then, is an inspiring biography of a woman who climbed out of an abyss of unhappiness to take control of her life and become one of the great writers of her time. And to enable her biographer to write this book scrupulously and honestly, Janet Frame spoke for the first time about her whole life. She also made available her personal papers and directed her family and friends to be equally communicative.

The result is a biography of astonishing intimacy and frankness. Just as Frame's own writing takes readers to the boundaries of the knowable, so this book penetrates deeply into the mind and character of its subject. The fact that Frame has previously been known above all else for her reticence makes this achievement all the more remarkable.

Condition: secondhand hardback with dust jacket.