Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No Fretful Sleeper, A Life of Bill Pearson, Auckland University Press $59.99

No Fretful Sleeper, A Life of Bill Pearson, Auckland University Press $59.99

In No Fretful Sleeper, Paul Millar explores the life of West Coast writer Bill Pearson. Born in 1922, Pearson embraced reading at an early age and grew up aware that while he enjoyed the company of girls he felt amorously towards boys.  For a Presbyterian West Coaster this created difficulties, thus he headed to London in his 20s, where he wrote prodigiously, mostly exploring his leftist principles and how New Zealand’s small society stifled and oppressed anyone who was different.  Prior to ths period in his life, he found a sense in belonging when he served in the New Zealand Army at the end of World War 2 and later as a member of the Maori Club at the University of Auckland.

He published one novel, Coal Flat, and a couple of non-fiction works on literature and wrote lots of reviews and critical surveys.  Publishers Blackwood and Janet Paul considered Pearson’s critique rare in the local scene.  “We have both been struck with your careful and judicious criticism”. However Pearson’s serious response to writing did not endear him to everyone he reviewed and he perceived that some reviews of his own work were in return vengeful.

Pearson’s upbringing and wariness had created the heart of this problem.  In being ever watchful of giving himself away Pearson was seen to be a very unemotional academic character.  Even his close colleagues such as CK Stead had no chance of knowing the real Bill.  Millar writes that Stead doubted the capacity of the Bill Pearson he knew to properly understand Sargeson. But the man Stead knew as a colleague was the closeted persona, not the warm caring man many such as the members of the University Maori club had come to know.

 No Fretful Sleeper is a well written study of a major figure from New Zealand’s literature and also an intriguing insight into growing up different in 20th century New Zealand.


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