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Elizabeth (Fiona) Knox Biography

wellington novel university victoria

Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Wellington, 1959. Education: Tawa College, 1972-76; Victoria University, Wellington, 1983-86, B.A. in English 1986. Career: Clerk, Department of Inland Revenue, 1977-78; printer, Butterworths, and PPTA, 1980-81; insurance underwriter, 1981; publicity officer, National Museum, 1983-84; assistant editor of Sport, 1988-93; tutor in film studies, Victoria University, 1989-95. Awards: PEN award, 1988, and fellowship, 1991; New Zealand Book award, 1993.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

After Z-Hour. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1987.

Paremata. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1989.

Treasure. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1992.

Pomare. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1994.

Glamour and the Sea. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1996.

Tawa. Wellington, Victoria University Press, 1998.

The Vintner's Luck. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998.

Uncollected Short Stories

"From the Treasury," in Sport (Wellington), April 1989.

"After Images," in New Zealand Listener (Wellington), March 1990.

"Post Mortem," in Landfall (Christchurch), March 1990.

"The Sword," in Sport (Wellington), October 1990.

"Sex of Metals," in Now See Hear! edited by Ian Wedde and Gregory Burke. Wellington, Victorian University Press, 1990.

"Afraid," in Sport (Wellington), April 1991.

"Take as Prescribed," in Soho Square 4., edited by Bill Manhire. London, Bloomsbury, 1991.

"Fiona Pardington," in Pleasures and Dangers, edited by Wystan Curnow and Trish Clark. Auckland, Moet and Chandon/Longman Paul, 1992.

"Going to the Gym," in Into the Field of Play, edited by Lloyd Jones. N.p., Tandem, 1992.

"A Doubtful Guest," in Stout Centre Review, February 1992.

"The Black Disc (Treasure 2.2), " in Metro, May 1992.

Plays

Screenplays:

The Dig (Un Certain Regard), 1994.

* * *

As early as her award-winning first novel, After Z-Hour, New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox has displayed a fascination with place. In each of her works since, the characters are impelled through their experiences due to the locations in which they find themselves. This concentration on place then bleeds into the narratives themselves, turning childhood or grief or love into places the characters inhabit, places whose geographies must be discovered and navigated in order to learn to live within them and ultimately to move beyond them into newer realms. Into each of these experiential states, Knox adds a layer of mystery or the supernatural, as if to say that since all of life is a strange environment needing to be explored, nothing is beyond the realm of the possible. The improbable elements of the stories would seem to contradict the simple or mundane aspects of life, which are ultimately the indicators of the beauty of the human landscape, from a child's halting move into adolescence to an old man's life and eventual death.

Each of the novels engages in new ways with Knox's concerns: the human groping for understanding in a world that often defies comprehension; how thinking, feeling creatures come to know and interact with one another; and the eventual connections between people that ultimately give meaning to life despite the distances between them. What the novels share is a tendency to inhabit various points of view in order to tell a story that moves through time and the psychological journeys of the characters. They are, however, never simply constrained by chronology. Knox's narratives often incorporate the experiences and voices of people dead before the figures of the main plot-line were ever born. The result of this layering of time and psychology is that emotional salvation, even if imperfect, can be effected in a past to which those dwelling in the present have no immediate access. This device allows all of time to interact, and the mythic, extra-ordinary element of Knox's works becomes fully apparent.

Her first novel, After Z-Hour, perfectly illustrates all of the trends that have become signatures of Knox's novelistic style. Set in an abandoned house during a freak spring storm, the novel brings together six strangers to try to cope with the possible haunting of the house and their own personal hauntings, from the recent death of one character's stepdaughter, to the feelings of perpetual alienation felt by another, and finally the communication between a third character and a dead World War I veteran, both of whom also provide narrative episodes. The inclusion of the dead man's story acutely draws attention to memory, the novel's main focus, and how the horrors of the past, whether personal or national, both inform and allow passage into the future.

Her second novel, Paremata, relies least on the paranormal to tell its tale. Instead, the novel enters the world of children, who supply their own mystery through the power of imagination and curiosity. Paremata, like the other novels, is concerned with place, in this case the landscape of childhood set within the shifting cultural scene of late 1960s New Zealand. Knox is interested in the ways in which children make sense of the world, the acuteness of their observations. She uses the make-believe world that the children of Paremata create to delineate their fumbling towards an understanding of loyalty, belief, and their own eventual adulthood. Though the novel stays focused on the children's experience, they bring the mysterious past into play with their evocations of a shamanistic religion replete with ritual, curses, and tribal allegiances. Through this game, the children are able to safely explore their feelings and filter the bewildering adult ideas that surround them.

Treasure, Knox's third novel, sets up an ambitious scheme, alternating between an exterior plot, set in New Zealand, and an interior story that takes place in the southern United States. As opposed to the earlier novels, the two main plot lines converge at the end, bringing together all of the major themes that the novel explores. Once again, Knox inserts the supernatural and mysterious to help explain the growth of the characters involved. Here, religion, specifically the enthusiastic expression of fundamental Christian belief and its reliance on extraordinary powers, plays a central role. The ability to heal with the human touch becomes associated with the psychological healing that is afforded to the characters. Once again, Knox evokes the physical worlds in which these stories occur with careful and illustrative detail.

In The Vintner's Luck, Knox moves the setting to France during the nineteenth century. The novel is structured chronologically, each chapter recounting the events of a single year in the relationship between a vintner and the immortal angel who becomes the most important figure in his life. Knox's control over narrative and structure are fully apparent in this novel, in which the landscape in which the vintner lives and the landscape of his life as it unfolds intertwine and inform one another. Here, too, salvation becomes a reciprocal gift, the angel enriching and giving meaning to the man's short life, and the man sustaining the angel long after his human life has ended. This chronicle of a complex relationship that develops in human time despite the eternal youth of one of its participants once again highlights Knox's tendency to see the mundane and incredible as intersecting states that not only inform one another but have the ability to directly interact and influence each other and the world.

—Michal Lemberger

Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights [next] [back] Simmie Knox Biography - Hit by Baseball, Switched Major to Art Education, Intimidated by Thurgood Marshall Commission

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