The Larnachs by Owen Marshall reviewby Elizabeth Alley
Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read
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.
The breakout Youtube star talks about 'How to Dad', paternity leave, and his own dad.Read more
The US President treats his Western allies to a tongue-lashing while cosying up to Vladimir Putin, causing alarm at home and around the world.Read more
Only Bernie Sanders comes out unscathed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdist new series Who Is America?Read more
Quality rather than quantity drives New Zealand's organic wine producers.Read more
The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.Read more
For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.Read more
Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.Read more
Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.Read more