Published posthumously and based on her experience in France as a Katherine Mansfield fellowship winner, Janet Frame’s In The Memorial Room is part roman à clef and part satire.
In the 1970s Harry Gill wins a memorial fellowship and heads to France to spend the year working on his next novel. Incredibly insecure, he begins suffering from psychosomatic illnesses. When Harry’s eyes start hurting, his doctor tells him he suffers from incipient signs of intentional invisibility, or he’s about to vanish. He returns to the doctor when his hearing fails and is diagnosed with Auditory Hibernation: “You are at the point of bisection of circumstances, opportunity, characters, time; everything is favorable to your obliteration. You have been stifled, muffled, silenced. You cannot cry out because you cannot hear the cry of others.”
In the Memorial Room had humorously scathing indictments of literary snobs, the pretentious and those obsessed with the worship of the dead at the expense of the living. The idea of people being so assured they’re destined for great things that they never actually get around to doing great things and the absurdity of human character and motivation were all funny and well done.
Unfortunately, I found this book tepid. Harry Gill was just too weakly drawn to carry the story for me. I had to reread the ending to make any sense of it, which was probably because I was apathetic and not really paying attention. It had humor, absurdity, social commentary and the writing was stellar–all ingredients for a book that I was sure I’d love, but I just wasn’t invested in any of the characters.