In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

One evening​ in 1990, when I was working as a janitor in a small town under the Forth bridges, I went to see An Angel at My Table, Jane Campion’s film about her fellow New Zealander, the writer Janet Frame. In the film we see Frame, played by Kerry Fox, recently released from a long spell in a mental hospital, given shelter and support by a white-goateed older writer called Frank Sargeson, played by Martyn Sanderson. She lives and types in his garden shed, finishes a novel, and sends it off to a publisher he has recommended. The novel is accepted and Sargeson waves at the garden gate as Frame leaves for Europe on a literary scholarship.

I knew nothing of New Zealand literature, still less that Sargeson was said to have created it. I read some Frame, but it was the image of Sargeson that kept coming back to me. It was hard to find Frame’s books in Scotland in the 1990s, but it was almost impossible to find Sargeson’s. It took me years to find half a dozen, including two of his novels, Memoirs of a Peon and Joy of the Worm. I was transfixed by the voice, which, particularly in his earlier stories, reminded me stylistically of some of the Scottish writers I admired, like James Kelman, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Janice Galloway. In the best of his work, the narrative is fragmented; there are sudden ellipses and omissions. He shifts aim slightly, deliberately missing the obvious dramatic bullseye: in ‘They Gave Her a Rise’, the explosion at the ammunition factory has just happened; in ‘An Affair of the Heart’ the prodigal son doesn’t return.

I thought of Sargeson as a gritty realist, a chronicler of the experience of the ordinary people of New Zealand during the long depression of the 1920s and 1930s. It was an inadequate reading, but widely shared. For years his work was read as a celebration of socially conservative men: inarticulate road-diggers and sheep-shearers, jokers who liked a handle or two of beer. It was always said that he wrote from the world of these men, and in their language. But Michael King’s biography, Frank Sargeson: A Life, published in 1995, told a different story.

In 1929, Norris Davey, a junior government clerk, was convicted under New Zealand’s anti-homosexuality laws. To avoid prison, he denied his sexuality, and gave evidence in court against the older man he’d been briefly involved with, Leonard Hollobin. Davey received a suspended sentence, but Hollobin was given five years’ hard labour. Davey gave up his job, moved to his bachelor uncle’s farm and hid himself away there for nearly two years. The man who eventually emerged was neither a law clerk nor a farmer, but a writer called Frank Sargeson. From the moment he walked off the farm – with a few books, a typewriter and £2 in cash in the sugar sack over his shoulder – he didn’t waver from the course he’d set himself: to become a published writer, and to make a living, however meagre, from that writing.

In the light of King’s book, the homosexuality of Sargeson’s characters comes into focus. In the novella That Summer (1943), the culmination of his early development, a young farm worker called Bill moves to the city at the depths of the Depression. He stays afloat in his emotional life, first with Ted, a ‘nuggety’ youth he swims naked and ‘fools about’ with, then with an older man, Terry, whom he chums to the races, and the pub, and job-hunting.

I’d look at him lying there.

Terry, I’d say.

What is it boy? he’d say.

Nothing, I’d say.

And then I’d say, Terry.

And instead of answering he’d just have a sort of faint grin on his face.

Terry, I’d say.

But I never could get any further than just saying Terry.

I wanted to say something but I didn’t know what it was, and I couldn’t say it.

Terry, I’d say.

And he’d sort of grin. And sometimes I’d take his hand and hold it tight, and he’d let it stay in my hand, and there’d be the faint grin on his face.

Terry, I’d say.

I’m all right boy, he’d say.

Shortly after its completion, Sargeson wrote about That Summer to Alec Pickard: ‘Mainly I suppose it could be described as a story about love – I suppose an attempt at demonstrating something of the faith trust responsibility confidence & belief that is the sine qua non of such relationships. But what will puzzle many readers and enrage some is the complete absence of heterosexuality in the thing.’ The emotion struggling for expression seems unmistakable now, but thousands of readers (though not E.M. Forster) missed it for decades.

Anyone who wants to visit Sargeson’s house in the suburbs of Auckland can pick up the key from Takapuna Library and walk the short distance to 14a Esmonde Road. When Sargeson’s stolidly puritan parents bought their holiday bach in 1923, Takapuna was a small, untidy collection of cottages and huts on the north shore of Waitematā Harbour. Eight years later, when Sargeson left his uncle’s farm, he decided he was going to make a permanent home there; by then, an improved ferry service to the city on the south shore meant it was becoming a respectable commuter suburb. Ignoring the gentrification, Sargeson dug a large vegetable garden, signed up for unemployment benefit, and dedicated himself to the writing life.

When I went there with Graeme Lay, a novelist and friend of Sargeson’s, he pointed over the garden fence to show me where the vegetables used to grow: the plot was sold shortly after Sargeson’s death in 1982 to raise funds to preserve the bach and its contents. When he died, Sargeson had $25.93 in the bank.

I looked at the grey unpainted walls. The house is built of Fibrolite, which sounds like breakfast cereal, but is actually asbestos sheeting. I stood on tiptoe, and peered through the window next to the door: a small dim room, with bare chipboard walls. A few old coats and hats on pegs, gardening tools leaning against one wall, and a small table with a tiny manual typewriter on it.

That room was a lobby-cum-tool store: the typewriter had been placed there anachronistically to welcome literary pilgrims. Sargeson lived in another, not much larger room. Under a long window was a narrow single bed with a patchwork blanket made for him by Janet Frame. There was a fireplace, a couple of rickety armchairs, a huge homemade wooden radio, and a waist-high counter separating a sink and a miniature electric cooker from the living area.

Lay picked up a brown bottle from the counter, held it up to the window for a moment and unscrewed the lid. ‘Lemora,’ he said. ‘Frank’s favourite tipple. Though actually I think half the reason he liked it was because everyone else hated it.’ He poured two fingers of viscous yellow liquid into a small glass tumbler. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, sweet and brassy. Lemora is a fortified wine made from grapefruit and lemon; everyone who visited Sargeson complained about how disgusting it was, but drinking it was the price you had to pay for being in his company.

Among what remained of Sargeson’s book collection, which included a copy of Ulysses bought in Paris in the late 1920s during his only visit to Europe, was a shelf of New Zealand writers he encouraged or helped get into print: Frame, Lay, C.K. Stead, Dan Davin, Maurice Duggan, Kevin Ireland. ‘The Great Irrigation Scheme of New Zealand literature is having marvellous results,’ Frame wrote to him in 1978. ‘Remember the narrow channel you made, all alone, into that part of the land where everyone said nothing would grow? And remember the struggle you had to get people to accept that it was necessary? You can look at all those creeks and canals that followed … and see the orchard. What an orchard.’ From one of the other shelves I pulled out a book called Early English Organs, a history of church music. Folded inside were some pages torn from a magazine: beefcake photos of musclemen in swimsuits and shorts, or nothing at all.

Outside in the garden, Lay pointed out a hatch that led to a crawl space underneath the house. ‘After Frank’s death, one of my kids found his certificate to practise as a solicitor in there, from back in 1928 or thereabouts. He’d obviously thrown it under the bach in disgust at some point. Of course, the name on the certificate wasn’t Frank Sargeson, it was Norris Davey.’ Sargeson maintained his new identity until his death. Only close friends knew his real name, and even they didn’t know his reasons for abandoning it.

Close to the loquat tree where Sargeson’s ashes were scattered is a hedge facing Esmonde Road. There’s a sign proclaiming the house to be the birthplace of New Zealand literature but the hedge is so overgrown the sign is invisible.

A fortnight later I was in Wellington, drinking craft beer in a pub with Hera Lindsay Bird, the most successful young poet in New Zealand. Her work is funny, vivid and provocative, and flows like a late-night conversation. Surely she must have drawn on the example of Sargeson and his demotic narration?

‘I know virtually nothing about Sargeson,’ she told me. ‘I’ve never read him. I’ve always been more interested in American writers – Frank O’Hara, Chelsey Minnis. I never found a lot I loved in New Zealand literature.’

I thought about her poem ‘Planet of the Apes’: ‘I tell you the story about my dead aunt/who spent her sixteenth birthday digging a giant hole//in the field behind her house and never said why.’ Surely that was a reference to Sargeson’s story ‘The Hole that Jack Dug’, in which Jack digs a giant hole in his back garden, and then fills it in again, for no reason that anyone can say, including himself? ‘No, it’s about my aunt, who dug a hole in her garden.’ She drank her beer. ‘I’m sorry, I know Sargeson’s revered abroad, but I rarely hear him mentioned here. Almost never.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 40 No. 13 · 5 July 2018

Hera Lindsay Bird must be pulling Duncan McLean’s leg (LRB, 7 June). Young as she is, she must know of New Zealand’s old Labour Day custom of digging a hole in one’s back garden. That’s clearly the origin of Frank Sargeson’s story ‘The Hole that Jack Dug’, and of the poem about her aunt.

McLean’s use of the term ‘gentrification’ to describe the development of Takapuna in Sargeson’s time is misleading. The suburb that grew up around Sargeson’s bach was mainly bungalows built on quarter-acre sections. There was nothing bohemian about Sargeson’s garden. Most of these bungalows would have had large vegetable gardens: that’s what you did with a quarter-acre section.

Sargeson went to the same secondary school as I did. Hamilton Boys’ High School, as it had become by the 1960s (it was co-ed in Sargeson’s day), was proud of the All Blacks it produced but never acknowledged its distinguished literary old boy. Hera Lindsay Bird is not the first to have ignored him.

Rod Edmond
Deal, Kent

Vol. 40 No. 15 · 2 August 2018

Rod Edmond suggests Hera Lindsay Bird is pulling my leg when she claims not to know of ‘New Zealand’s old Labour Day custom of digging a hole in one’s back garden’ (Letters, 5 July). I reckon it’s Edmond who’s doing the leg-pulling. I’ve never seen mention of such a custom in any literary or historical context, and none of the New Zealand writers with whom I have discussed ‘The Hole that Jack Dug’ has heard of it either.

Jack was based on a friend of Sargeson’s called Bill Anso. ‘Anso used to dig holes everywhere,’ the poet Kevin Ireland wrote to me. ‘He would see a spade and he’d grab it and dig. If all men shared Anso’s compulsion, the planet would be like gruyère cheese.’ Anso’s obsession was briefly normalised in the early years of the Second World War, when fears of a Japanese attack drove many New Zealanders to dig bomb shelters in their gardens.

Another ‘Son of Sargeson’, Maurice Duggan, wrote vividly about Labour Day on the North Shore in the postwar era:

Up and down this crumbly hill the lawnmowers are whirring, the radios are chanting comments, winners, prices, from the ‘tots’; the glare strikes up, the dust blows: the air is rich with the smell of all those roast dinners eaten at high noon; “dad" is undoubtedly off somewhere, sleeping with the newspaper over his face: the pubs, like any football scrum, one knows, are packed tight.

So no hole-digging.

Contrary to Edmond’s further suggestion, Sargeson’s garden was far from the norm. Quarter-acres in up and coming suburbs like Takapuna were typically laid out to lawns, with only limited flower and vegetable beds. Sargeson was extremely unusual in cultivating every square inch for food production. His garden literally kept him alive at many points. So desperate was he to wring every ounce of goodness from the land that he even treated the council-owned berm between the front of his section and the roadway as an opportunity to grow long grass for scything and composting. This was yet another irritation to his tidy-minded neighbours, who felt that New Zealand’s greatest writer was lowering the tone of Takapuna.

Duncan McLean
Stenness, Orkney

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.