Wire walking : The work of Shonagh Koea, 1987-1996
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The title of this thesis comes from an observation made by Norman Bilborough in Landfall (Spring 1993, p. 329): Shonagh Koea is a wire walker - and it's a deceptively high wire. Some nights she makes it across, and you have to admire her talent; other times she falls abysmally into the net. Using the metaphor of wire walking, this study demonstrates that Koea's work is a precarious balancing act in that it attempts to balance comedy with seriousness, and fantasy with realism. When compared with the fiction of serious writers the escapism of Koea's novels, in particular, is evident, mainly in the way the predicaments of the protagonists are resolved. Thus, the first chapter deals with how Koea's work differs from that of other writers and how it departs from the general direction of serious contemporary women's fiction. The second chapter examines how the work uses caricature, and how it repeats the marginalised widow character, who is constructed as a romantic heroine requiring rescue, and whose concerns the narrative attempts to persuade the reader to share. Excesses in the language and a tongue-in-cheek narrative tone, reinforce the view that the work is constructing a two-dimensional reality and this is demonstrated in the third and fourth chapters which examine Koea's use of language and her story telling, or narrative, techniques. The study concludes that the contradictions between comedy and seriousness and between realism and fantasy inevitably upset the balance in the work when the narrative attempts to assert fantasy over realism while requiring the reader's serious consideration of the romantic heroine.