The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Roads from Home
Roads from Home. Roads from Home, 1949, centres on the same milieu, seen more elaborately this time, with a family as its focus, rather than one rebellious young student sprig of it. This is, of course, Dan Davin's own background. He was born in Invercargill in 1913, educated at the Marist Brothers' schools and Otago University; a Rhodes Scholar in 1935, he took an Oxford degree and joined the Clarendon Press. He saw war service with the 2 N.Z.E.F. in 1940-5, and compiled the official war history, Crete.
The short stories in The Gorse Blooms Pale, 1947, had sketched in this Southland world of childhood with acute perception; his war novel, For the Rest of Our Lives, 1947, will be discussed later. With Roads from Home, the return to local themes which had deeply impressed themselves upon Davin's mind and imagination resulted in a renewed clarity of vision as of writing.
There are still patches of melodramatic heightening and clogged rhetorical flights. The theme is still conflict between the different values of the generations. Norah Hogan, the mother, is devoted to God and to her menfolk, but the menfolk strain at the leash of her affectionate control. The two sons, Ned and John, are trying to beat out their own roads in life, which lead inevitably away from mother. Ned's problem is religious. He has trained to be a priest, but his faith is weakening, and in any case the priestly vocation will, as he begins to appreciate, cut him off as a man apart from the warm community about him. Is this, then, the right road? (Mark Burke, the intellectual in Cliffs of Fall, also had to face the result of cutting himself off.) John has married a Protestant girl; in addition to the problems which this creates within the circle, he has begun to question the satisfactions of the road he earlier chose, when he "swerved away from books" and "became a man of his hands". Is this the page 67 right road, the so typical casual male New Zealand way of races, football, rabbiting?
"Ferreting wasn't the fun it used to be . . . Something had gone out of it. You had a tendency now to think about what the rabbit must be feeling."
Even the father of the family, Jack Hogan, wonders whether his life took the right direction long ago when he became a railwayman. Whichever road you take, you will damage someone. This is the human predicament. Davin makes this movingly clear, in a convincingly drawn New Zealand setting, without any parade of local colour.