I’ve been lucky enough in recent weeks to discover deep and genuine attractions to several contemporary writers, that go beyond just a single novel I enjoyed. I did manage to write up Winterson Week, and I’ll be getting to some more Ali Smith as well. But for now, let’s go back to Kirsty Gunn.
When I wrote about Featherstone, I noted the importance of light, and the way the town at the heart of the novel is being continuously viewed and reviewed in different lights, from different angles. A couple weeks ago, Mary McCallum at O Audacious Book posted about Kirsty Gunn’s art of writing, after hearing Gunn speak.
She says an intense sense of place is pivotal in her work as it was in Katherine Mansfield’s: the light, the colour, the setting. And she doesn’t name the places but they are particular places nonetheless. Kirsty says by not naming the places she writes about she protects the privacy of the individual’s sense of place. New Zealanders knew Rain was set in Taupo [there’s the lake, the desert road….] but Scots imagined a lake in Scotland, Americans in America…
This made me feel much better about some of the ambiguity I felt reading Featherstone. For ages I was convinced it was an English (or perhaps Scottish) village I was in, then I kept thinking it must have been New Zealand… Given, I could never think that particular villagey nature existed in the States, but it was still strangely unclear. Featherstone itself was so completely fleshed out, yet it existed…where? I like that this is an intentional feature.
The ambiguity is there in The Boy and the Sea as well, though it is much easier to think this must be New Zealand—or could it be Australia?—what with the surfing and all. Either way, it’s the same sense. This beach is so real to me, the sea is so real to me, but where they are situated is not just unreal but incredibly unimportant.
The time of day is important here too, though not so much for the light as for the movement of the sea. In Featherstone we are hyperaware of the sun; in The Boy and the Sea we are—or at least Ward is—hyperaware of the sea. With good reason, of course.
These are just musings. Tomorrow I’ll (try to) really talk about this wonderful little novel and why I actually liked another Bildungsroman.