Hailed by one reviewer as 'likely a work of genius', Scented Gardens for the Blind (first published in 1963) ostensibly follows the members of the fractured Glace family, suffering from different forms of sensory deprivation u the daughter mute, the mother blind, the father estranged u yet each living in a vivid world of their own making. While the father looks to the past in his obsessions with genealogy and toy soldiers, the modern age hangs over them with the hint of nuclear apocalypse. But all is not what it seems in this dark and dazzling novel, and Janet Frame's narrative virtuosity is expressed in an ending that makes the reader re-interpret all that has gone before. Modernisation, in the form of electricity and the Overspill from London, confronts the inhabitants of the small English village of Little Burgelstatham in the richly textured The Adaptable Man (first published in 1965). While some amongst the large cast of characters prefer to live in the past and avoid modern life, others adapt and welcome its arrival, not least Muriel Baldry, who can now hang her Venini chandelier and throw a dinner party to celebrate.
But does adapting to the twentieth century demand darker deeds? C.K. Stead wrote of this comedy of manners that 'Frame, that most authentic, firm and unadaptable lady, planted landmines everywhere in those bogus English fields'.
Janet Frame was born in Dunedin in 1924. She was the author of eleven novels, five collections of stories, a volume of poetry and a children's book. She was a Burns Scholar and a Sargeson Fellow and won the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters and the Hubert Church Award for Prose. She was made a CBE in 1983 for services to literature, awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from Otago University in 1978, and one from Waikato University in 1992. She received New Zealand's highest civil honour in 1990 when she was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand. Janet Frame died in January 2004.