I’ve been thinking about Owen Marshall a bit lately. I feel like, in some way, I’m often thinking about him, have been since I was about 15 or 16. That’s when I met him – er, on the page, that is. I’ve never met him. I’d like to. I’d love to interview him one day. I would love to chat with him – he is one of my all-time favourite writers. He is one of New Zealand’s greatest writers, perhaps our best short-story writer; he would hate hearing that I’m sure. The aspect of competition. But he really is one of the significant greats. His influence and impact. Huge.
In high school I was turned on to some of my favourite books and writers – I was lucky to have a handful of really great English teachers. They also put up with me and saw that as much as I was a clown I was into reading, into writing; loved books. So they tolerated any of the madness and nurtured some of the creativity.
The introduction to the work of Owen Marshall was monumental.
Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay, early 1990s. I feel seen when I read stories like The Day Hemingway Died. I love The Homily of Mr. Poose. I love the shape of his stories, the economy, the way he slices up the slice of life. The life he injects into the writing. The way the line is laid out and the next one to follow. And then one after that. But never more than there should be; always perfect.
In the mid-90s I move to Wellington and the bookstores have copies of the various volumes, so I start buying them. Reading more. I haven’t read any of his novels – they started in the mid-90s. I have read some of his poems (pretty good!) but as a short-story writer alone he is one to marvel over. He is a master.
There’s a book called Coming Home In The Dark from the mid-90s. I bought it when it was a brand new volume. It’s got this story called Pendragon (a satire on English aristocrats). I still don’t quite know what this story means or how it came about. I re-read it ever couple of years and it baffles me still. Such is its brilliance.
Lately, just very lately, I’ve started buying (and buying back) some of the early story collections. (I got rid of so many books a while back and in some cases I realise I made a huge mistake).
I can tell you one thing for certain: An Owen Marshall story stays written.
The best of this work – mercurial, so special – is such a joy to read, technically superb, so perfectly crafted. But never feeling clinical. These are often distinctly Kiwi short-stories; slices of our life here. But there are also international settings and characters. And many of them are stories that travel well.
Look, I know Marshall is revered and loved – has been given several honours and lifetime achievement-styled tributes and triumphs. All of them deserved. Plus – give him more! Even more.
But I still wanted to get down here, in a few words, that he is an author I admire. One I think about a lot. Whenever I have a go at a short-story, which isn’t often (and is probably far too often enough at the same time) I have one writer in mind: Owen Marshall. He is the gold standard in that sense. The utter gold.