Artefacts and Other Stories by Rebecca Burns.
With skill and economy, Rebecca Burns allows us to slip into moments in the lives of her characters when the meaning and emotion of their struggles up to that point seems to compress. Memories overwhelm. New choices perhaps appear.
That compression of time can be triggered by an item, an artefact; perhaps a greatcoat, a letter, a bootie. Bits and scraps. Moments. Glimpses.
In ‘The Bread Princess’, we discover that an array of bonnets can give us impressions of the changing attitudes in a small community across a century. In other stories we view obliquely into the psychological impact of the 1914-1918 war through unexpected portals: a kitchen, a railway waiting room, a cricket match.
These snippets about each of Burn’s characters are like a sheaf of loose pages fallen from the larger books of their lives. We discover enough to give us a feel for who they are and to wonder what will happen to them, even while we must accept that we’ll never get to read all of their pages, just as we cannot ever really know someone’ else’s life story.
The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns.
They voyaged from Britain to the ends of the earth, “the antipodes”. Driven by hardship, propelled by hope, the women in these stories left behind their old lives and strived to make new ones. But the settlers brought with them the same stultifying conventions and social constraints they had left behind.
Isolated on bleak farms or confined to soul-destroying boarding houses, these women are each at the mercy of men’s whims and male control of property. One slip away from destitution, they must reach deep inside themselves, getting past old ways of life and old conditioning, to do what they need to do to survive.
Each story is complete and satisfying in itself, and yet, like life, they are also connected by events or characters; so that the stories towards the end satisfyingly close the circle of themes raised by the earlier ones. The last story, by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori viewpoint of these arrivals.
I found The Settling Earth to be a fascinating perspective into frontier New Zealand and Burns new novel Beyond The Bay further looks into life in a raw new country as seen through the eyes of two sisters in Auckland.
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