Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, January 28, 2023

"Between My Father and the King" -A Short Stories by Janet Frame- from Between My Father and the King and Other Stories - 2012

 Janet Frame

A Post in Memorium of Her Passing Eight Years Ago

Born - August 28, 1924- Dunedin, New Zealand 

Died - January 29, 2004- Dunedin, New Zealand 

Janet Frame Literary Trust- 

This is my first venture into the work of Janet Frame, I hope it will not be my last. After Katherine Mansfield, she is the third  New Zealand born writer to be featured on The Reading Life.

Today's story was originally published, as far as I can ascertain, in her postummous collection in 2012 and shortly after that in the Manchester Review. (The story can be read in the sample of the Kindle Edition of Between My Father and the King and other Stories.)

"Between My Father and the King" in just a few marvelous pages evokes a very moving account of a soldier from New Zealand, a veteran of what was once called The Great War, feelings toward a debt HD owes the British government, personified in the person of the King of England. The story is narrated by his daughter.

" My father fought in the First World War that used to be called ‘Great’ until the truth of its greatness was questioned and the denial of its greatness accepted. My father came home from the war with a piece of shrapnel in his back, remnants of gas in his lungs, a soldier’s pay book, an identity disc, a gas mask, and a very important document which gave details of my father’s debt to the King and his promise before witnesses to repay the King the fifty pounds borrowed to buy furniture: a bed to sleep in with his new wife, a dining table to dine at, linoleum and a hearthrug to lay on the floor, two fireside chairs for man and wife to sit in when he wasn’t working and she wasn’t polishing the King’s linoleum and shaking the King’s hearthrug free of dust; and a wooden fireside kerbto protect the hearthrug, the linoleum and my father and his wife from sparks when they sat by the fire. All this furniture, the document said, cost fifty pounds, which had to be paid to the King in agreed instalments. I found this document the other day, and the accompanying note of discharge from debt; and it was the first time I had known of my father’s dreadful responsibility. For besides promising to repay the loan he had sworn to keep the bed and mattress and fireside kerb and hearthrug and linoleum and dining table and chairs and fireside chairs in good order and on no account sell or exchange them"

The daughter ( I am assuming it is his daughter rather than a son based on the introduction to the collection) has just found the document in which her father  agrees to let a representative of the King inspect his furniture at any time. The man and his wife get nervous everytime someone knocks on the door, fearing it might be the King’s inspector. This is a profoundly anti-war and colonial story, reflecting how ordinary people are sacrificed in wars for the glory of Kings.  The ending is darkly hilarious and terribly sad.

Mel Ulm 

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