Book Review: Ngaio Marsh–autobiography features Shakespeare!

I recently finished Ngaio Marsh’s Black Beech and Honeydew.
It’s an autobiography of the author who grew up in New Zealand.
It might as well have been named “Shakespeare!” because a lot
of the reading has to do with her producing plays–with only

occasional forays into her detective novel writing with Roderick Alleyn.

The book was written in 1965 and she died in 1982, born in 1895.
You do the math.  She’s a good writer and the book spins along
easily, even though my Shakespeare is not up to snuff.

One of the highlights of this book for me was finally figuring out how
to pronounce her name!  It’s “nye-o”.  Apparently it is a small
evergreen that grows in New Zealand.  Her name was Edith Ngaio
Marsh–couldn’t find any reference to the reason for her name.  She
always went by Ngaio.

Her parents had friends who were actors and they visited the
theatre often, so Ngaio had familiarity with the stage all her life.

Once, an actor/friend of the family retired and went to live with
an unmarried sister and brother and I wondered to myself how
many of those sorts of families are left today.

The Marshes were well-read, though her mother disliked Sir Walter
Scott because of his “historical inaccuracies and bias”.

In an early part of the book, Ms Marsh quotes some of her
favorite childhood poetry–from Shakespeare and Kipling,
and that makes nice reading.

She was tutored at home in her earliest years, and then sent
to boarding school— a Catholic one which surprised her
for her parents were not devout, nor religious.  But I think
she makes a good point when she wrote:  “the fervor, the
extremes and the uncertainties of adolescence must find some
of channel.  I took mine out in Anglo-Catholic observance.”

You might as well go ahead and look up “antipodean”.  It means
the other side of the globe from England—in other words, or
especially, Australia and New Zealand.

A big part of the book is when Ngaio makes the trip to London–
her big dream–to be in London.  And it’s quite a trip!  I didn’t
realize that it’s 1300 miles (across the rough Tasman Sea) just
to get from New Zealand to Australia.  And THEN to go from
Sydney, past India,  around Africa and up that coast to get to
Europe and London.  Yikes.   Frankly, I was glad to just be an
armchair traveler at that point.

Well, the emphasis is always on the production of plays–and
Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare.  And she was effective
in creating a robust theatrical establishment in New Zealand.
That clearly was her passion in life.

But near the end of the book she talks a bit about her detective
novel fame and makes interesting suggestions for books to
read—by master mystery writers Julian Symons and H.R.F.

I will do that—and maybe even reread some Shakespeare . . .
I do recommend the book for the flavor of the “antipodean”

ngaio marsh 001






Share Button
This entry was posted in book review, books, drama, literature, London and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: Ngaio Marsh–autobiography features Shakespeare!

  1. Stefanie says:

    Sounds like an enjoyable book. So interesting that she spent so much time talking about Shakespeare. Clearly that is where her true passion lies and detective fiction came along too, perhaps, to help pay the bills?

    • booksandbuttons says:

      She was almost remarkably elusive about the detective
      writing—funny. I never got the impression she needed
      money–pretty well set from childhood. Maybe you’ll read
      it sometime and we’ll compare notes. Thanks, Stefanie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.