The Trouble With Fire by Fiona Kidman

The Trouble With FireThe Trouble With Fire by Fiona Kidman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dame Fiona Kidman, I salute you.

Where most people see ordinary, you see extraordinary. Where others believe nothing has happened, you reveal how the earth can be detached and reattached at a slightly altered tilt, in a single instant of a woman’s life.

A while ago you gave us A Needle in the Heart, a collection of six short stories obscurely linked, building to a crescendo that I remember now more for the chill it left me, than the actual details itself. The Trouble with Fire might ebb the same way in time, but no matter, I will take pleasure in reading them anew. It is not the minutiae that lingers so much as an aura; like a perfume whose scent you will remember even when the name escapes you.

There are 11 stories, all set in New Zealand, all feature women living so-called ‘ordinary lives’; all involve memory, and of course fire – whether literally or metaphorically. Of these stories, the reviewers appear to have given the highest praise to Silks, the story about a woman whose husband falls ill while holidaying in Vietnam. The horror and the uncertainty, the stress and the grind, the waiting and the waiting, is interspersed with her recollections of their life and marriage.

Possibly thanks to those reviewers, Silks was the short story that I had held out for the most, open ears for the pearls of wisdom that might be passed down from one generation to another. Here, I thought you might say, This is what true love looks like; or this is how you know when you know”.

I’m not sure, though. Maybe I wasn’t listening? Or perhaps, more likely, you’re just doing what you do so well; showing us that there are no rules, no tidy boxes, no generalisations. Each life is unique. Each marriage unique.

I sat up and paid attention in Extremes. The young girl in 1950s rural New Zealand who falls pregnant and is forced to travel to Australia to have an abortion. I’ve read about the ‘fallen women’ who went into homes and gave up their babies for adoption before, but I didn’t know there were alternatives, if you can call such life-threatening misadventures in upholding the moral code an “alternative”.

I laughed out loud in Preservation. I won’t give away any spoilers, suffice to say it was rather dark. Come to think of it, The Italian Boy was too, in places. Disturbing secrets and hinted scandals. But what I held precious in that story is the scene where Hilary resists Meryl’s pressure to abandon the old-fashioned dress her mother pored over for weeks, in order to wear something more in keeping with the times.

“In this setting, Hilary saw that her aunt’s old dress from the thirties wouldn’t do. And yet, thinking of last Saturday, and the afternoon she and her mother had spent together, their hands bathed in the soft fabric of the dress, she was overwhelmed by a fierce rush of loyalty. She said: ‘Well thanks, but I want to wear the dress I brought”.[p. 29]

I struggled with the depiction of various Māori characters who featured in a number of stories, whether on the periphery (as in Extremes) or playing a central role (as in Fragrance Rising). But then I realised that what sits uncomfortably with me now, was back then, simply the reality of the times. New Zealand in the 1950s, indeed right through until the late 80s, is a place not many of us would recognise anymore. All you’ve done is describe that reality accurately and honestly – such that it resonates with me on a very personal level. Aaah! I thought. This was the social and political landscape in which my Pākehā mother married my Māori father. And the earth tilts for me too.

If there’s a supreme award though, it goes to the story of Ruth Mullens and her mother Joy Keats. The fate of these women and their families, is woven through three interlinked stories and as many generations. It reminded me much of the BBC acclaimed trilogy Lost Property by Katie Hims. Rather than a child that is lost, however, in The Man From Tooley Street it is a mother. And while invariably life goes on, the loss echoes down through the generations and leaves no-one unaffected.

So hats off to you, Dame Fiona Kidman, you’ve made history personal, the mundane insightful, the tragedy universal, the dark humorous. And thus concludes another little mini-celebration of the beauty and non-ordinaryness of New Zealand women throughout history.

* The Trouble With Fire was a finalist in this year’s (2012) NZ Post Book Awards and at the time of posting has spent 12 weeks on the Best Seller list in New Zealand.

View all my reviewsThe Trouble With FireThe Trouble With Fire by Fiona Kidman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dame Fiona Kidman, I salute you.

Where most people see ordinary, you see extraordinary. Where others believe nothing has happened, you reveal how the earth can be detached and reattached at a slightly altered tilt, in a single instant of a woman’s life.

A while ago you gave us A Needle in the Heart, a collection of six short stories obscurely linked, building to a crescendo that I remember now more for the chill it left me, than the actual details itself. The Trouble with Fire might ebb the same way in time, but no matter, I will take pleasure in reading them anew. It is not the minutiae that lingers so much as an aura; like a perfume whose scent you will remember even when the name escapes you.

There are 11 stories, all set in New Zealand, all feature women living so-called ‘ordinary lives’; all involve memory, and of course fire – whether literally or metaphorically. Of these stories, the reviewers appear to have given the highest praise to Silks, the story about a woman whose husband falls ill while holidaying in Vietnam. The horror and the uncertainty, the stress and the grind, the waiting and the waiting, is interspersed with her recollections of their life and marriage.

Possibly thanks to those reviewers, Silks was the short story that I had held out for the most, open ears for the pearls of wisdom that might be passed down from one generation to another. Here, I thought you might say, This is what true love looks like; or this is how you know when you know.

I’m not sure, though. Maybe I wasn’t listening? Or perhaps, more likely, you’re just doing what you do so well; showing us that there are no rules, no tidy boxes, no generalisations. Each life is unique. Each marriage unique.

I sat up and paid attention in Extremes. The young girl in 1950s rural New Zealand who falls pregnant and is forced to travel to Australia to have an abortion. I’ve read about the ‘fallen women’ who went into homes and gave up their babies for adoption before, but I didn’t know there were alternatives, if you can call such life-threatening misadventures in upholding the moral code an “alternative”.

I laughed out loud in Preservation. I won’t give away any spoilers, suffice to say it was rather dark. Come to think of it, The Italian Boy was too, in places. Disturbing secrets and hinted scandals. But what I held precious in that story is the scene where Hilary resists Meryl’s pressure to abandon the old-fashioned dress her mother pored over for weeks, in order to wear something more in keeping with the times.

“In this setting, Hilary saw that her aunt’s old dress from the thirties wouldn’t do. And yet, thinking of last Saturday, and the afternoon she and her mother had spent together, their hands bathed in the soft fabric of the dress, she was overwhelmed by a fierce rush of loyalty. She said: ‘Well thanks, but I want to wear the dress I brought”.[p. 29]

I struggled with the depiction of various Māori characters who featured in a number of stories, whether on the periphery (as in Extremes) or playing a central role (as in Fragrance Rising). But then I realised that what sits uncomfortably with me now, was back then, simply the reality of the times. New Zealand in the 1950s, indeed right through until the late 80s, is a place not many of us would recognise anymore. All you’ve done is describe that reality accurately and honestly – such that it resonates with me on a very personal level. Aaah! I thought. This was the social and political landscape in which my Pākehā mother married my Māori father. And the earth tilts for me too.

If there’s a supreme award though, it goes to the story of Ruth Mullens and her mother Joy Keats. The fate of these women and their families, is woven through three interlinked stories and as many generations. It reminded me much of the BBC acclaimed trilogy Lost Property by Katie Hims. Rather than a child that is lost, however, in The Man From Tooley Street it is a mother. And while invariably life goes on, the loss echoes down through the generations and leaves no-one unaffected.

So hats off to you, Dame Fiona Kidman, you’ve made history personal, the mundane insightful, the tragedy universal, the dark humorous. And thus concludes another little mini-celebration of the beauty and non-ordinaryness of New Zealand women throughout history.

* The Trouble With Fire was a finalist in this year’s (2012) NZ Post Book Awards and at the time of posting has spent 12 weeks on the Best Seller list in New Zealand.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

One thought on “The Trouble With Fire by Fiona Kidman

  1. Pingback: Reviews for The Trouble with Fire » FIONA KIDMAN - writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s