Jenny (Reading Envy)'s Reviews > Hot October: An Autobiographical Story

Hot October by Lauris Dorothy Edmond
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bookshelves: read2015, location-new-zealand, worldlit2015, around-the-world, biography-memoir

It is New Zealand November and I am trying to read more books from and about New Zealand as part of my year-long Oceania reading spree in 2015. I got my hands on this book when a retired professor loaned me a pile of New Zealand books that aren't very well known outside the country.

Lauris Dorothy Edmond is a well known New Zealand poet. I have some of her poetry on the way but as of right now I have not read any. She wrote a three volume autobiography, and Hot October is the first. It is the story of her childhood up through her college years, coinciding with the second world war. Because she wrote detailed and open letters to her mother, she was able to include many of them with her actual younger voice. She is a normal person but living inside a country I don't know much about, so I thought it was interesting. When she gets to the training college, she discovers a love for the theater, and encounters Ngaio Marsh who comes through as a guest instructor (Ngaio Marsh is best known for her mystery/whodunit novels set in England.)

Because Edmond is a very literary person, her letters home and earlier childhood memories often have to do with the books she was reading. It is clear that these reading experiences were deeply personal, forming her outlook and passions. But very few authors were writing about New Zealand:
"The world you entered by reading was a vast various place centred in England but including America too, and a past which was more or less indistinguishable from the present. Pretty well every time and place in fact, except New Zealand.
There is quite a bit of commentary on the war, but more from the perspective of how it effects the people left behind.
"I was in town today and saw the men just returned from the Middle East and they looked so thin and haggard and even th young ones so old, I couldn't help wondering if any belief or any country has the right to demand what has been demanded of those men - and taken too. It isn't as though conditions after the war will be so much better - if they were, it might be worth it, but they won't be. People are too apathetic and they won't change. REmarque talks of a whole generation of restless frustrated young men in All Quiet on the Western Front - we don't see them now because they're in uniform, but we will again. Pro-war feeling is very high here at the moment, and I think everywhere. I wish I felt this conviction about winning the war - everyone else seems to.
Lauris is really not deeply impacted by the war, at least not as shown through the concerns she writes about in her letters. She even mentions Hiroshima IN PASSING but more as something that happened far away. And for her, it was. She speaks out more in later years about nuclear testing, but that's for another volume. More dangerous to Lauris and her friends were hunger, getting lost on a tramp, and the constant earthquakes.

Edmond's entire life up to the point where this volume ends is saturated by earthquakes, which is probably what surprised me the most. As a child, she was a survivor of the 1931 Napier or Hawke's Bay earthquake, which still to this day is the country's worst disaster. Some of her classmates and teachers died that day when the roof collapsed in their school; Lauris had already started off for home.

I love coming-of-age stories and this volume of her autobiography really captures how Lauris becomes a woman. Because of the era and just growing up in general, she struggles with her role, the expectation to be light and the desire to be deep. (This resonated with me!)
"Even people like Sandy I'm disillusioned with - after all in spite of everything he's like other men, and underneath thinks women are just to look at and play with and talk nonsense to. I'm beginning to see it as part of the great obstacle women have in front of them wherever they turn."
(That's from a letter sent to her mother from Training College in 1942.)

Lauris also dabbles in different political views; some of her friends attend Communist meetings and she visits but isn't really very excited about them. It feels like she is just finding her way in career and love as this volume ends. I plan to continue reading her story, after I've read some of her poetry.
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2015 – Started Reading
November 1, 2015 – Shelved
November 2, 2015 –
page 120
November 5, 2015 – Finished Reading
November 7, 2015 – Shelved as: read2015
November 7, 2015 – Shelved as: location-new-zealand
November 7, 2015 – Shelved as: worldlit2015
November 7, 2015 – Shelved as: around-the-world
November 7, 2015 – Shelved as: biography-memoir

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