3. The Trouble with Fire - Fiona Kidman, Random House (Vintage) $36.99
Over 20 books Kidman is still the considerate writer. Like a well made quilt and a cup of Earl Grey from a bone china cup, she treats every word as a treasure, to cherished and admired.
This, her latest work contains eleven long taled vignettes, vaguely connected by a theme of 'fire'. The book itself is divided into three parts, the spark, the flame and the extinguishment, I favour to guess. Although it really isn't that clear.
Our favorite Wellingtonian, Kidman is now 71 and many of the stories in the first section seem as if they are autobiographicial, or at least anecdotes from her friends and relations. They seem worn in and famiilar, to a degree. A woman looking back over life. Like any of that theme and genre they cover the power of the past, how it plays on the present, and how we allhave different perspectives on it. We write our own plays and then perform them to a criticalaudience, hoping to sell the scenes to our own end.
Opener, 'The Italian Boy' is about a writer who receives a visit from an old friend, promping her to remeber the events of her school days which are both threatening and romantic. It takes in the extremes of the day, like (in the 1970s) New Zealand women had to fly to Sydney to have an abortion because it was illegal here. 'Heaven Freezes' sees a a man remembering his first wife as his second marriage crumbles, and dwelling on the past to forget the incoming future. 'Preservation' offers alittle twist, wth the most unlikely member of a group of girlhood friends ending up in prison.
They'r not nostalgic stories but there is a feeling of years passing as girls gofrom cheeky wee slips to greying matriarchs. you can sense that Kidman is accepting her own fate and toying with it almost as a distraction or a defiance to grow old with out the poise and grace of accomplishment.
The main story in the second section has three connected tales tracing the generations of a family with a grim, long-buried secret. The first, 'The Man From Tooley Street', uses the Morrison macabre to paint a goulish picture of a young Waikato farmer’s wife disappearance. It's not until no. 3 'Under Water' that he maternal grand daughter uncovers a credible solution to the mystery. What most likely happened to her? These are fractured relationships, always enveloping Kidman's favourite topic: the plight ofwomen through the ages, and a reflection on how their lives have changed.
Finally, secton 3 contains two historical stories, both based in fact it would seem. 'Fragrance Rising' is about Coalition Prime Minister of the 1930's Gordon Coates whlst 'The Trouble With Fire' is about Lady Barker, author of the book 'Station Life In New Zealand', which recorded her time living in the foothills of the Southern Alps in the late 1800s. Both are good historical fictions of individuals, metaphors that highlight themes like race relations, women's rights and women's work and the genuine hard yakka of the day.
Always, Kidman speaks with a gentle voice of confidence and authority, She's done her home work and her characters are so real you could pop next dor and borrw a cup of sugar. If you've never read Kidman, then here's a good entry level to one of our greatest writers of fiction and non fiction.