14.08.20

Michael Jackson - Memories of Menton

1982 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Michael Jackson, recalls her memories of Menton.

"My year in Menton was a turning point in my personal as well as my literary life. For some time, I had dreamed of a sabbatical from anthropology and academe, so when I went to France with my wife Pauline and our twelve-year old daughter, Heidi, in 1982 I already had an idea in mind for what would become my debut novel, Rainshadow (1988).

Every morning, I would leave our apartment at the Garavan Palace, and make my way along Avenue Katherine Mansfield and Chemin Fleuri to the Villa Isola Bella, once described by Katherine Mansfield “as the first real home of my own I’ve ever loved.” Here she wrote some of her most celebrated stories. She was thirty-one when she came to Menton in September 1920, suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments. When she left for Switzerland in May 1921, she had only nineteen months to live. Fatefully, a similar series of events overwhelmed Pauline in the Spring of 1983. Fearing a return of the cancer for which she had been treated ten years earlier, we flew to England to consult with specialists.

Five months later, we returned to Wellington where Pauline died. As I struggled to regain my hold on life and support our daughter, our days in Menton seemed enchanted. Not only had I felt at home in France, where we had made close friends, but Pauline and I had both completed writing projects that, in my case at least, gave me a glimpse of the kind of writing to which I would devote my energies in the years ahead. Lawrence Durrell once observed that fiction brings a temporary semblance of order to what is in its very nature “a fractured and fragmented world.” The same may be said of social science. But writing my first novel in the shadow of bereavement made me suspicious of Durrell’s conception of art as a “joyous compromise” in which the imagination makes good the disappointments and defeats of our quotidian life. What I sought was a balance between fact and fiction, and a form of writing that retained a strong sense of the existential complexities and ethical dilemmas that define the human condition.

After Menton, I led a peripatetic life, which may also explain why I so often transgressed disciplinary lines and why my writing intermittently switched between ethnography, poetry, fiction, and memoir. Although this shape-shifting has often drawn the criticism that a jack of all trades is the master of none, and that such literary promiscuity risks blurring the line between art and science, I continue to believe that a human life is never a seamless whole or reducible to a single story. We lead many lives in the course of one, and there is no necessary connection between the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we co-create with others."

- Michael Jackson