The Larnachs by Owen Marshall reviewby Elizabeth Alley
The Larnachs is a sensitive, compassionate and discreet reworking of fact.
With , he’s achieved a sensitive, compassionate and discreet recreation of a story that, in less able hands, could well have faltered.
In this fictional reworking of historical fact, Marshall takes the skeleton of the true story of William Larnach, squire of Larnach Castle and respected member of Parliament, his marriage to third wife Conny and her scandalous love affair with his son Douglas, culminating in William’s suicide in the Parliament Buildings. The familiar setting of Larnach Castle, with its large well-appointed estate, within the social fabric of colonial settlement in Otago and Wellington, provides a strong sense of reality and is the refined background against which Marshall imagines the unfolding of the doomed love affair. Interspersed are vivid glimpses of Richard Seddon and William Massey and the acerbic wider Larnach family.
Marshall’s voice has always had an elegant restraint, and, sensitive to the potential for this story to erupt into pure melodrama, he has pitched it perfectly.
On the face of it, this is a risky construct. Very little happens. Social life on the peninsula and political life in Wellington go on as normal. The tensions of the story rest entirely on the diminishing relationship between William and Conny and the developing passion between Conny and her stepson. There is minimal dialogue, and only the two counterbalanced narrative voices of Dougie and Conny, each recording their growing desperation and determination against a growing background of hostility and rumour that simmers throughout the genteel colonial province like a growing virus. In that it is filtered through these two voices, the full scandalous drama of the affair is more muted than sensational, but that seems entirely compatible with the protective carapace that surrounded the socially powerful.
The tragic outcome is historical fact, but the story is also a moving reflection on the nature of love amid the social constraints of the time. It was a story just waiting to be written. Thank goodness it was Marshall who wrote it.
THE LARNACHS, by Owen Marshall (Vintage, $39.99).
Elizabeth Alley is a Wellington reviewer.
Julie Christie is almost as polarising as that famous American former reality TV star.Read more
There’s nothing quite like playing the Lions and, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, his players will make the most of the opportunity.Read more
Senior Labour Party officials have had to step in to deal with interns brought to NZ to work on the election campaign, after complaints.Read more
A performance review of the embattled Ministry of Health is expected to be highly critical of the ministry's leadership team.Read more
In another year, decade or recognisable universe, Comey’s testimony before Congress would have been the political event of a generation – not now.Read more