Late Songs, by Roger Robinson
The Trouble with Fire
A woman approaching her 50th wedding anniversary flies from Auckland to meet her aid-volunteer husband in Bangkok, and they fly on to Hanoi, where he becomes seriously ill with rotavirus. Their holiday, planned partly to “stalk the ghost” of Marguerite Duras, turns into a nightmare of intensive care, censorious doctors, incomprehensible language, and money and insurance problems. The woman, a writer, who is telling the story, settles into an unreal life as resident of the Sunway Hotel, drinking too much Luis Buňuel rosé. Her memories of their marriage, from its obsessively erotic beginning through its later years of fiery love and fiery anger, mingle in her mind with images from the life and novels of Duras, especially “The Lover”, and making love in a Vietnamese room with slatted blinds, their skins “like twin silks sliding together”.
“The Silks” is the best and most memorable story of Fiona Kidman’s impressive new collection, mainly because it is the most intensely focused and the most consistently charged in its writing. It’s the only story not set in New Zealand, but it will stand close to Joy Cowley’s “The Silk” as an exquisitely crafted testimony to the complexities of love in later life, when memory and desire confront the nearness of death. It may be autobiographical, I don’t know – the writer-narrator, like Kidman, has recently published her autobiography – but it is utterly convincing. It’s downright terrifying if you read it while you’re travelling, as I did.