‘A Night at the Opera’, by Janet Frame

The New Zealand author Janet Frame is best known for the autobiographical trilogy published as An Angel at my Table, and the subsequent film by Jane Campion. It was Frame’s stories and novels, though,  which would prove a lifeline and her way out of rural poverty, family tragedy and mental instability. Frame was frequently admitted to psychiatric hospitals in her 20s and underwent electroconvulsive therapy following a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She was scheduled for a lobotomy, which was cancelled when, in 1951, her dreamlike first collection of fiction,The Lagoon, won one of NZ’s most prestigious literary awards, an almost unbelievably fated intervention. In this story, found among Frame’s papers after her death, a screening of the Marx Brothers’ classic film parallels the humdrum yet surreal routine of the residents of Park Lane Hospital, where ‘the weeks had no name, nor the months, nor the years’.

(Published posthumously in the New Yorker, 2008. Available online)

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