This book is audacious because the author is audacious and because her first novel A Breed of Women published in 1979 was considered wildly audacious. With Sharon Crosbie telling her radio listeners: ‘Darlings I’ve got the book we’ve all been waiting for. This book is about us. We’re all in it', A Breed of Women by Fiona Kidman was snapped up by 9,000 buyers in three days and continued to sell well for years afterwards.
After reading At the End of Darwin Road (2008) I had to read A Breed of Women, and what do you know, I found a first edition hardback for sale on Trademe for $9 today. So I bought it. [It’s one of the first 9,000 hopefully.] The Book Council website tells us A Breed of Women is the story of an unconventional young woman’s confrontations with a narrow-minded small town society characterised by the grim judgment, ‘There’s no way outa Ohaka, ’cept by flying young, or dying here.’
Fiona knows small town NZ society – she was in it in Kerikeri as a child, Waipu as a teen and Rotorua as a young woman. In her memoir, she talks of the trouble she had conforming. Always feeling like an outsider looking in, she yearned to be a real writer and worked her way up from book reviewer through play and script writer to poet to novelist. It was tough going at times and Fiona has met with her fair share of humiliation, antagonism and maliciousness along the way, but she stuck to her knitting --actually she confesses to disliking knitting -- make that her two-finger typing, and is now a Dame and in 2006 she was the Katherine Mansfield fellow in Menton.
At the End of Darwin Road is the first part of Fiona’s memoir. It explores her life up to the publication of Mandarin Summer and the death of her father, but it also skips back and forward to the place she wrote the book: Menton France. It is a fascinating, unsettling and moving exploration of a woman writer at a time in New Zealand of tremendous social change, when being a woman writer was more of a dream than a reality. Fiona is a recent friend of mine [both of us have written novels set on Arapawa Island which led to the meeting], but until I read At the End of Darwin Road I didn’t know how privileged I was to be able to say that. Recommended.