Jacqueline Fahey is a New Zealand artist. She was one of the first women artists in this country to work entirely from a woman's perspective - domestic life from a suburban neurosis viewpoint, the ill/dying/dead, homeless and street people. A most unconventional woman for her time, she continually challenges our preconceptions of these subjects. And, being a vastly talented woman, she is also a writer. This book is the first of two memoirs she has written in recent years, and is as entertaining and diverse as her art work and her life.

Now in her mid-80s, I expect she is just as feisty as ever, if the interview in the link above is anything to go by! By all accounts she has made outstanding contributions to the NZ art scene, to the women's and mental health movements over the years, not to mention nuclear disarmament, bigotry and discrimination. Her marriage to psychiatrist Fraser McDonald brought her into close contact with those institutionalised in places such as Porirua, Carrington and Kingseat Hospitals. Her compassion and determination to highlight those hidden from mainstream society are evident in much of her art work and in her writings. Her art work is bold, colourful, and about life. This year she received a NZ Arts Foundation Icon Award for her contributions and legacy to NZ culture and to her particular art form.

In this first memoir she writes about her Irish Catholic ancestry and childhood growing up in the South Island town of Timaru, her move to Christchurch to study art and the bohemian lifestyle she follows, her meeting and marriage to Fraser including the most lovely letters she wrote to Fraser before they married and which she now reflects on. The last section covers their early married life living on site at Porirua Hospital.

The inner cover blurb describes this book as a 'tapestry of very personal and family stories' and that her 'commentary on the social and cultural trappings of NZ life is shrewd, witty and perceptive'. I really can't put it any better than that. In many ways reading this book is like having her sitting in the room with you telling her story. There is a fair amount of wandering around a subject or anecdote, and sometimes you wonder, well how did we get to this point, and have I missed a bit! But I can only think, not knowing the woman, that this is how she really is and it just adds to the charm and pleasure of reading.  I am very much looking forward to reading her second memoir which I hope will be just as entertaining and insightful as this one.

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