- Publisher: Random House
- Published: November 5, 2002
. . . follows varied stages in the lives of two neighbours, who are both coming to terms with living in new territories and learning the language of their own personal grief. Ruth is grieving over her dead husband while Grace is adapting to life in New Zealand. Their gentle, tentative friendship flows through this verse novel, contrasting with the dramas of Ruth’s other friendships, both old and new. While looking back to her past, Ruth also has to hurdle the many complications of her modern life, such as a teenage son who may or may not be taking drugs, and gay friends being outted.
Elegiac and funny, lyrical and hard-hitting, this work — the first verse novel written by a New Zealander — reads with the accessibility and ease of a novel and the beauty and grace of a poem.
Random House, 2002
Aging, witty and strikingly contemporary. When I wasn’t being stunned I was certainly being entertained.
Rebecca Palmer, Otago Daily Times
An adventurous idea, to write a novel as a poem in eight parts and, you might think, an ambitious task for the reader, too. Not so. Diane Brown’s new novel is a delight to read and when could you last say, “I could not put this poem down”?
Our heroine is Ruth, who has moved to Piha from a posh seaside house on the North Shore and is struggling to get through her grief for her (not-so-perfect) husband Andrew, killed almost four years before in a car accident.To help herself she has written a primer on grieving and we first meet her as she travels through New Zealand on a publishing whirl. She is not sure that she is having a very good time as she worries about her wayward teenage son, Chris, back home staying with friends. They scrap a lot — “You need to chill out, relax, smoke a bong,” he advises. Her mother, who died before the book was finished, declared, “Why you want to dwell on the maudlin is beyond me. Haven’t you had enough of death?”Ruth may know only too well that her mother doesn’t understand her, but readers will recognise in Ruth someone they would want as a best friend. She is warm, funny, infuriating, undecided, honest — in other words, very human as she flails around with her wide circle of friends. She has been asked to write a column in a trendy new magazine called Urbane and she worries that it is only because of her husband Andrew’s high-flying television career. The media is efficiently bagged by Brown in a highly entertaining way as Ruth picks her way through its minefield.
Only with Grace, a tiny Asian immigrant living next door, is Ruth careful and more circumspect. She becomes aware that for Grace and her daughters, New Zealand offers immense hope and opportunity. Grace’s forbidding husband is not so sure and wants to return to Korea. Brown’s first book was an award-winning combination of prose and poetry, Before the Divorce We Go To Disneyland, and in 1999 she published her first novel, If The Tongue Fits. In this delightfully true new work we journey along with Ruth as she eventually learns how to let go. “Knowing that even if you step right on top of a live mine, you will just move into the next, possibly better phase.” She also discovers that the person who has taught her this, is none other than Grace. While she has been teaching Grace English, Grace has quietly been teaching Ruth much much more. 8 Stages of Grace may chart the familiar territory of the human heart, but it sells its truths in an enchanting, readable and novel way.
* Penelope Bieder, NZ Herald
Longlisted for the Deutz Medal for Fiction in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2003.
* Penelope Bieder is a freelance writer.