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Memory Pieces is made up of three separate pieces of memoir – the first, Double Unit, is the story of Maurice Gee’s parents, the second, Blind Road, is about Maurice’s own life until he became a writer at the age of 18, and the third part, Running on the Stairs, is the story of Margareta Garden, prior to meeting her future husband Maurice Gee.
On the face of it, this is just another memoir. However in the hands of a writer as talented as Maurice Gee, (and also of his mother Lyndahl Chapple), you become completely involved in the life and times of these people, in a way that simply draws you in to continue reading.
The Chapple family were quite possibly a little unusual in that James (Our Father in Lyndahl’s story) shifted most of his large family to the United States for a time, as he was a pacifist who would likely have landed up in jail in New Zealand. That’s a pretty brave move for anyone, but seems particularly so for the time (just prior to World War 1). Lyndahl’s story is a delightful picture of a childhood in the early part of the 20th century, and I just wish she had not stopped so abruptly. The reasons for her not continuing a potential career as a writer become clear in Maurice’s part of the story.
Maurice’s story also captures time and place brilliantly. It made me think– as I frequently do – that we need to get our family stories told before those who can provide much-needed facts and anecdotes are unable to do so.
Told in Double Unit, Lyndahl and Len are an interesting couple with not a great deal in common: Len a practical and pragmatic builder, a hard worker, providing for his family, keen on racing, while Lyndahl’s interests were not quite on the same page. Len did build her a writing desk, though!
As with most families, all was not smooth sailing and as a parent, Lyndahl had some dark times, which took their toll on the family. Again, you realise that these things are far more common than we imagine, and there are few families untouched by trauma or difficulties of one kind or another.
Margareta’s story, told by Maurice in Running on the Stairs, brings a young Swedish girl to NZ with her mother to reunite with their husband and father, Oscar Garden, a renowned pilot. Again, trauma and difficulty are apparent, and the marriage does not last. Margareta comes across as a strong, determined young woman, adapting with apparent ease to constantly changing circumstances.
There’s a great deal in this book to reflect on, and in which to find similarities of upbringing, belief and experience. I found it a fascinating read – it’s sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes drily humorous and often extremely touching.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
by Maurice Gee