t. 93, Renée, These Two Hands, a memoir


Renée, These Two Hands, a memoir.
Wellington: Mākaro Press (2017).
RRP: $38. Pb with flaps, 416pp.
ISBN: 9780994137845.
Reviewed by Judith Cleine.  

Renée These two Hands  a memoir, is a quilt of 88 overlapping patches, the number corresponding to Renee’s age at the time of publication.[1] The quilt conceit is explained in a preface as ‘… some patches are small, some large … but they all fit together … Purpose? To warm, to comfort, to read under … to think of the hands that made it and the brain that chose some patches and the heart that chose the others.’

‘I was born in Napier on Friday, 19 July 1929, and the world went into a deep depression. Then Napier fell down. Two years after that my father shot himself. He was from Gore. Drama didn’t just follow me, it came out and met me with a big tah-dah.’

Between the opening and closing patch, Renée’s life and work unfolds.

Patch 1 introduces Rose, Renée’s formidable solo mother, whose poverty and unflinching morality evokes the milieu of Renée’s childhood. As a twelve-year-old Rose tells her, “If you get a job and bring some money in,” “Val and Jim can go to high school” (p 34). Patch 8 in the quilt is titled, “When I turned eighty” (p 43) recounts her trip to China (2010) to visit with her son and wife Zuzu and their first child, a daughter, Freddie Renée.

Poems and extracts from Renée’s published plays[2] are also scattered through the quilt. And while it is not always clear how, or if, the poems and extracts relate to their neighbouring patches, or that the patches are not in strict chronological order, ultimately it doesn’t matter because Renée’s voice and vivid storytelling stitch it all together. She speaks directly to the reader, sometimes to herself, and sometimes to her whanau, about her struggle with cancer and her life as a prolific New Zealand playwright and theatre director.

Renée These two Hands is a fascinating character study, an insight into the development of self-aware theatre in New Zealand and a thought-provoking and enjoyable read.

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[1] Renée Gertrude Taylor, ONZM (born 1929 (of Māori Ngāti Kahungunu, Irish, English, and Scottish ancestry. She is known mononymously as Renée.

[2] Listed in an appendix. Renée is the author of 8 novels and over 20 plays with Wednesday To Come perhaps her most loved work.

 


Judith Cleine is a Christchurch-based writer with a passion for theatre.