Owen Marshall

ANZL Fellow

Photo credit: Liz March

 

Elizabeth Alley on Owen Marshall:

Each chapter of Owen Marshall’s newest novel Love as a Stranger (2016) is prefaced by the stylised shadow of a man, becoming more sinister as the plot gathers momentum. Familiars of Marshall’s work will recognise this as a recurring motif, in that shadow, or shaded nuance, are all part of a fine craftsmanship that has earned his place in the forefront of our prose fiction writers.

Interviewing Owen Marshall for radio on many occasions during the 1980s and 90s, the shadow had a different significance. I could never quite rid myself of the shadowy image of a policeman – tall, strongly built, direct, economical of movement, yet with faint echoes of a careful, deliberate speech habit probably learned from the classroom. But what stood out was his rigorous attention to a detailed question, the intense thoughtfulness of his answers, and his ability to make an interview a reflective, original and completely engaging exchange. Over 20-odd years he remained absolutely one of my favourite interviewees.

Occasionally described as ‘too male, too bleak’, his 30-odd book career has put paid to those somewhat arcane labels.   Certainly it’s been in the provinces and small towns of rural New Zealand, often those of the South Island, where his voice is heard most acutely in his many volumes of short stories. His characters, wrought from the granite and limestone of their home places, are inexorably hewn into that landscape.  His gift is for shaping character by casual reference that instantly reveals them.   Donald McDonald (Coming Home in the Dark) is like ‘living with a cartoon, … though he has some nice dark suits and drives a Camry. I’d say he was a very hairy man’ (‘Living in the Belle Monde’).

In ‘The Aftermath of Moloch’s Heaven’, a story that should bury for all time the label of a sober demeanour, ‘Old Celia has a face like a Cheviot ewe and a stable of trotters known from one end of the country to the other.’ Story after story reveals the opposing dualities that fascinate him – comfort and disturbance, and what he describes as ‘the tidal swings of confidence and security.’ If his stories sometimes lack strong plot, they exhibit instead his stronger interest in tone and response, and the ineffability of humankind.

At his best quietly celebrating lives more often regarded as ordinary, Marshall also takes delight in exploring the many ambiguities found amid the swings and roundabouts of the human condition. Perhaps what is most remarkable is his consistently empathetic view of his characters. Even in his latest novel, Love as a Stranger, the increasingly sinister and darkly flawed character of Hartley, is partly excused by his twisted view of the nature of love.

Over many years of interviews and public appearances as a short story writer, Marshall frequently fielded questions about novel writing. ‘But the short story is what I do best’, he would invariably answer.  Perhaps the example of Slaven, who had ‘a compulsion to speak out’, proved irresistible. Since that first novel, A Many Coated Man in 1995, and those which followed, these longer works, some more memorable than others, now constitute a body of work that has given him space to explore some of the heftier moral issues that interest humankind. His combination of satire, laconic wit and compassion coupled with an elegance of language and penetrating insight, continues to enrich our literature.

 

Accolades

Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (2013)

Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature (2012)

Antarctica New Zealand’s Arts Fellowship (2009 / 2010)

New Zealand Society of Authors Woollaston Estates Writer-in-Residence (2007)

New Zealand Society of Authors President of Honour (2007 / 2008)

Montana New Zealand Book Awards for Fiction [shortlist] (2006)

Invited to France as part of Les Belles Etrangeres (2006)

Appointed adjunct professor University of Canterbury (2005)

The Press South Island Writers’ Award (2004)

Creative New Zealand Writers’ Fellowship (2003)

Montana New Zealand Book Awards Deutz Medal for Fiction (runner-up) (2003)

Honorary DLitt, University of Canterbury (2002)

Montana New Zealand Book Awards Deutz Medal for Fiction (2000)

ONZM for Services to Literature (2000)

Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in Menton, France (1996)

Montana New Zealand Book Awards for Fiction (shortlist) (1995)

Otago University Robert Burns Fellowship (1992)

New Zealand Literary Achievement Award (1990)

New Zealand Literary Fund Scholarship in Letters (1988)

American Express Short Story Award (1987)

Evening Standard Short Story Prize (1987)

PEN Lilian Ida Smith Award (1986 & 1988)

Canterbury University Literary Fellowship (1981)

 

Links

Owen Marshall’s website

New Zealand Book Council profile page

Wikipedia

Penguin Books author page

Bridget Williams Books (BWB) author page

Takahē review of Love as a Stranger (Aug, 2016)

Stuff.co.nz review of Love as a Stranger (April, 2016)

Radio New Zealand extract of Love as a Stranger (April, 2016)

NZ Listener interview regarding The Larnachs (June, 2011)

Bibliography: Owen Marshall

 

Poetry

The White Clock (Otago UP, 2014)

Sleepwalking in Antarctica & Other Poems (Canterbury UP, 2010)

Occasional: Fifty Poems (Hazard Press, 2004)

 

Fiction

Love as a Stranger (Novel: Vintage; Random House, 2016)

Carnival Sky (Novel: Vintage; Random House, 2014)

The Larnachs (Novel: Random House, 2011)

Living as a Moon (Short stories: Vintage; Random House, 2009)

Owen Marshall: Selected stories (ed. Vincent O’Sullivan: Vintage; Random House, 2008)

Drybread (Novel: Random House, 2007)

Watch of Gryphons & Other Stories (Short stories: Vintage; Random House, 2005)

When Gravity Snaps (Short stories: Vintage; Random House, 2002)

Harlequin Rex (Novel: Vintage; Random House, 1999)

The Best of Owen Marshall’s Short Stories (Short stories: Random House, 1997)

A Many Coated Man (Novel: Longacre Press, 1995)

Coming Home in the Dark (Short stories: Vintage; Random House, 1995)

The Ace of Diamonds Gang & Other Stories (Short stories: McIndoe, 1993)

Tomorrow We Save the Orphans (Short stories: McIndoe, 1992)

The Divided World: Selected Stories (Short stories: McIndoe, 1989)

The Lynx Hunter & Other Stories (Short stories: McIndoe, 1987)

The Day Hemingway Died & Other Stories (Short stories: McIndoe, 1984)

The Master of Big Jingles & Other Stories (Short stories: McIndoe, 1982)

Supper Waltz Wilson & Other New Zealand Stories (Short stories: Pegasus Press, 1979)

 

Creative Nonfiction

As Fair As New Zealand To Me: New Zealand Writers in Katherine Mansfield’s Menton (Victoria UP, 2000)

 

Anthology

Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (ed. Bill Manhire: Victoria UP, 2008)

The New Zealand Book of the Beach 2 (David Ling Publishing, 2008)

The New Zealand Book of the Beach (David Ling Publishing, 2007)

Small Packages (Longman, 2000)

Morrieson’s Motel (Tandem Press, 2000)

The Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories (ed. Michael Morrissey: Flamingo, 2000)

Out of Town: Writing from the New Zealand Countryside (Shoal Bay Press, 1999)

Letter from Heaven (Longman Paul, 1995)

6 Otago Writers: Stories & Poetry (Aspiring, 1994)

The Good Tourist and the Laughing Cadaver: Travel Stories from Australian & New Zealand writers (Vintage, 1993)

 

Editor

The Best New Zealand Fiction: Volume 6 (Vintage, 2009)

The Best New Zealand Fiction: Volume 5 (Vintage, 2008)

Sunday 22 (Vintage; Random House, 2006)

Essential New Zealand Short Stories (Random House, 2002; New enlarged edition, 2009)

Spinning a Line: New Zealand Writing about Fishing (Vintage, 2001)

Authors’ Choice: Leading New Zealand Writers Choose Their Best Stories … and Explain Why (Penguin, 2001)

Beethoven’s Ears: Eighteen New Zealand Short Stories (Longman Paul, 1996)

Letter From Heaven: Sixteen New Zealand Poets (Longman Paul, 1995)

Burning Boats: Seventeen New Zealand Short Stories (Longman Paul, 1994)

'Many of our best stories profit from a meeting of New Zealand and overseas influences' - Owen Marshall

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