I have to say I absolutely loved this book. Almost everything about it appealed to me instantly – the writing, the setting, the characters. It has a blinding literary cast – T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell and several others.
How, I ask you, can you not drool?
As the title might suggest, this novel is about Katherine Mansfield, the New Zealand born writer who spent much of her time in England. She is a writer who is considered to have defined the modern short story. And, indeed, her stories are like nothing else.
However, this story is about the writer who created those stories. And any reader knows what it’s like to want more of a writer, to want all of them even. With this novel Stead manages to give Mansfield’s readers a little of that ‘more’.
The blurb reads: “Spanning three years in the life of the writer Katherine Mansfield during the First World War, this novel follows the ups and downs of her relationship with Jack Middleton Murry and her struggle to break through as a writer. As her brother and lovers are drawn into the conflict, Mansfield becomes more and more determined to write the ‘new kind of fiction’ which she feels the times demand.”
Stead focuses on the three years of Mansfield’s life in which her own writing was undergoing a transformation. I absolutely loved Stead’s writing style – it was so direct and concise, but managed easily and clearly weave the images in my head. The characters, too, just came to life on the page as I read. Maybe it’s the fact that they are actual literary figures, and I’d read so much about them beforehand that it was easy to see the form and shape they took in this novel. In any case, it was almost a thrilling experience. Maybe it’s the fan girl in me, but I was very excited to see those literary names appear as characters in this novel, and to see their temperaments and manners imprinted on the page.
Stead manages to capture Mansfield’s tone and language quite well. Mansfield is renowned for her cutting wit and sometimes cruel satire and there is evidence of that in this novel. The only thing I didn’t really like was that almost every male that she came into contact with wanted to jump into bed with her, or was attracted to her in some way. I think that’s why T.S. Eliot was my favorite out of the male characters portrayed here – he managed to maintain a cool, but friendly distance. (His gentle and patient disposition might also have had something to do with it.)
This is a novel that every KM fan should read – and it’s one they probably will want to read to, if they call themselves a KM fan. While it doesn’t really add to any knowledge of her life that has already been printed before, it does offer a tantalizing image into Mansfield’s everyday life, and more importantly – and more excitingly – into her mind. It’s always fun to ponder how one of your favorite authors lived and acted, what they thought and worried about; in that sense this novel is an indulgence that any Mansfield fan would be eager for.
3.5 out of 5 manuscripts