Reading into Margaret Mahy's writings

From Here Now, 5:00 am on 15 August 2022

Ten years since Margaret Mahy died in July 2012, her body of writing continues to inspire, and intrigue. 

Yuanyuan Liang

Yuanyuan Liang in Beijing Photo: Supplied

Dr Yuanyuan Liang’s niche is analysing the trauma aspect of characters in Mahy’s stories. It was a long-held fascination with young adult literature brought Dr Liang from Beijing to Wellington five years ago, aside from one other, big drawcard.

Listen to the full interview with Yuanyuan Liang on  this episode of Voices:

Dr Liang earlier this year just finished her PhD on the subject –"Tribulations and Trials: Trauma in Margaret Mahy's Youth Adult Novels" and happens to be the most wide-ranging academic study to acknowledge and analyse the trauma aspect of characters in Mahy’s writing.

The quality of trauma is its unspeakability" she says.

Siting other examples of literary studies elsewhere in the world that examine trauma in other young adult literature like Harry Potter or Anne Frank, Liang says looking at this aspect in Mahy's work is a first. 

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Photo: HarperCollins

"I sort of just picked it up, it's hard to explain why."

Raised in Beijing, Yuanyuan Liang has always been a fan of literature - both Chinese and English.  "But it all started with Oscar Wilde" she says, whose work she became fascinated with as a Masters' student in China. 

Liang examines the depth and complexity of Mahy’s treatment of her protagonists’ trauma – from bereavement to bullying, to sibling rivalry or broken families. Dr Liang writes in her study about Mahy’s fantastical stories and imaginative ways in which those key traumas aren’t put in the foreground but are back-stories in another time.  

Listen to the full conversation on Voices:

She now looks forward to seeing where her study leads others interested in Mahy’s work, the complexity of her characters and most of all, the author’s deft and delicate handling of the magnitude of trauma.