- Publisher: Tandem Press
- Available in: Paperback, 96 pages
- ISBN: 0908884966
- Published: November 5, 1997
Before the Divorce We go To Disneyland weaves together poetry and prose in a seamless exploration of the narrator’s relationships.
Winner NZSA Jessie Makay Award Best First Book of Poetry, 1997
Brown manages to group words in ways which are delicate and powerful at the same time. It’s a rare gift.
Review by Lindsey Dawson, Next Magazine
What gives Diane Brown’s writing new impact is its subtlety, understatement and gentle irony. An arresting literary debut which suggests that Diane Brown has the choice of a career in either poetry or prose.
Reviw by Graeme Lay, North and South
Like eating fresh bread from the oven; its lively rhythms and pithy prose make it convince as a discovery of voice, a statement of self.
Review by Janet Wilson, Evening Post
In sharp contrast is Diane Brown’s refreshing treatment of seemingly well-trodden ground in Before the Divorce We Go to Disneyland. On the strength of this her first book, the Auckland writer was (co)-awarded the 1997 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Writer’s Fellowship. The book’s main subject matter is abundantly familiar: the empowering, if painful, realisation of the “fiction” of fairytales of femininity, the myths of the demure bliss of domesticity, maternity, wifehood imbibed from infancy ( “And even little girls with short hair are made up of sugar and spice, all things nice”). Juxtaposing the sardonic and the lyrical, Brown traces the life of her protagonist/speaker from a fairy tale childhood through love, marriage, childbirth, divorce, remarriage and the final despatch of husband No 2. Deftly shitting between present tense prose (in the third person) and past tense poetry (in the first person), the novella-length book sits surprisingly comfortably on the borderline between autobiographical fiction and confessional autobiography. These juxtapositions are further underscored by Brown’s witty mixture of the prosaic and the imaginary, as suggested by the title. Together these various stylistic doublings underscore the “conflicting visions” through which the protagonist must work: the incompatibility of daddy’s “princess” and dreams of independence from male domination. An adolescent fed on women’s magazines, she poses as Rapunzel, as “young men/ came calling/polished apples/in their laps”. She marries young, to a man who “does not own a sports car but … is tall and going places.” Love soon falters amid suburban routine and her husband’s infidelity.
Sometimes she stands. Pressed against the windows. Mouth kissing the pane. “Mad,” the neighbours say. but only a girl not allowed to swing upside down The decline of the first marriage is wittily charted. Irony holds sentimentality in check as the sections of poetry become looser and more impressionistic and the sardonic tone of the prose is heightened: “He says she takes up too much space. On a guided tour points out offending objects. Even her clothes in the wardrobe are accused of indecent behaviour. “Creeping up to his shirts uninvited.” A family trip to Disneyland fails to recapture the lost fantasy of happy families: “Our sons are disappointed/in us”. A second marriage is no more successful. An accountant, her husband “has that look/in his eye/deals have gone his way…. announcing/a mortgagee sale/he does not expect/to get much for me/(as long as he/covers his costs”. It is in fact she who rejects him. In the morning, he finds himself sitting in the green recycling bin on the kerb. . . “Despite the lack of room he stays put.” Before the Divorce is not only a story of a woman’s gradual realisation of the need to fashion a subjectivity independent of men. It also narrates her discovery of writing and the subversive possibilities of stylistic experimentation: “it’s only the telling/that makes the difference”; “sometimes form/is the main ingredient.” Autobiographical or not, in this book Diane Brown practises what her protagonist/speaker finally allows herself to do. She has given her “crafty mind” permission and scope to shape new forms and fairytales to contain the all-too-familiar story of many women’s lives.
Review by Kim Worthington, New Zealand Books, August 1997