The Withers family lives in a small town in southern New Zealand. They are very poor, and the children are called dirty at school and subjected to humiliations. They like to go to the town dump to look for treasures.
At 12, the oldest girl, Francie, must quit school to do housework for a wealthier family in town. Toby, the only son, is subject to epileptic fits. Mr. Withers verbally abuses his wife. Then one day there is a terrible accident, and Francie is killed. Some time later, Daphne is hospitalized in a mental hospital, just as Frame herself was.
The novel skips forward 25 years to the 1950’s. Mr. Withers is retired, and Toby is now the bully of the household. Daphne is still hospitalized, and Theresa, the youngest daughter, has married and moved away.
Janet Frame was the first writer to tackle the subject of mental institutions. This novel is harrowing and occasionally satiric. However, I often couldn’t follow the poetic passages. I read this for my Classics Club list.