This study of Janet Frame's fiction addresses with unusual directness the Utopian momentum that underpins her concern with fundamental social issues, traditionally highlighted in existing criticism of her work. The idea behind this book is that Frame's critique of society, while it is offered for its own sake on one level, should not lead us to neglect the author's more speculative interest in an alternative conception of the human person. Her engagement in a species of experimental portraiture proves elusive, though, owing to an indirectness of approach that usually takes the form of thematic circumscription, rather than explicit representation. For example, the figure of the mute child, recurrent in her work, may well testify to a concern with the plight of the mentally ill; but on another level it also points to an envelope of intractable experience which it is the artist's task to penetrate and explain.
Such aspiration is inseparable from the search for a new medium of expression, felt to be necessary if one is to meet the challenge of apprehending the scope of pioneering knowledge. This close reading of the novels reveals that the alternative dimension of experience to be found in Frame's novels is characterized by an intact capacity for remembering, or for imaginatively re-creating, eclipsed aspects of the present. Frame's view of Utopia thus turns out to be manifold: it is existential and ontological, linguistic and epistemological, but also historical and political. An unravelling of these intertwined strains then serves to clarify the complex question of Frame's post-colonial sensibility, which cannot be said to rely on a sense of rigid identity, whether national or otherwise.