‘My Last Story’ by Janet Frame

I knew Janet Frame’s work but not well when I appeared at the Auckland Literary Festival, and I appeared on a panel with the writer Damien Wilkins, who read the whole of ‘My Last Story’ to the audience. I have, since then, read the whole of ‘My Last Story’ to my fiction classes. It is a deeply strange story, short enough that, like a poem, you can read it in all directions, back up, run turns of phrase through your finger, and puzzle over its meaning. “I don’t like writing stories,” it begins, and then it goes on, all voice and wry sorrow, to explain why. It has one of the most heart-stopping ends of any story I know, even more heart-stopping when you know that this story was the last in her first book; that the first book won the Hubert Church Memorial Prize; that somebody at the psychiatric hospital where Frame was about to undergo a lobotomy read about the prize, and halted the procedure. Does fiction matter? This seems a definitive answer.

First published in The Lagoon and Other Stories, Caxton Press, 1951; collected in Prizes: The Selected Stories of Janet Frame, Counterpoint 2010; available to read online here

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