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White, Patrick

australian novels tree grow

(Australian, 1912–90)

Patrick White's style is slow-moving and repetitive, heavy with detail; but once a reader is submerged in the vast world of one of his novels, any sense of effort is forgotten. Start with The Tree of Man (1956); Stan and Amy Parker clear the native bush and build their own farm, have children, grow old. Each hopes for revelation and meaning; around them the daily triumphs and tragedies of life proliferate. Their neighbours, the Quigleys, have a simple-minded son, Bud, who is looked after by his saintly sister, Doll—until the day Doll's patience snaps, and she comes in to tell Amy she has murdered Bud. The Parker children grow up disappointing—the son vicious, the daughter emotionally sterile. In its portrait of the rhythms of a lifelong marriage The Tree of Man is reminiscent of D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow.

Voss (1957), based on a true story, describes an epic and terrible expedition, undertaken in 1845, to cross the Australian continent. Riders in the Chariot (1961), White's greatest book, tells the story of four outcasts whose lives are touched by visionary experience. Himmelfarb is a refugee Jewish professor who ends up working in a bicycle-lamp factory; his experience of persecution and the murder of his wife in Germany lead him to believe that the intellect has failed humanity, and he seeks another meaning in the Australian town of Barranugli. But his foreign-ness again singles him out for unwelcome attention. White's dialogue reveals with scalpel sharpness the graduations of snobbery, racism, ignorance, and hypocrisy amongst Himmelfarb's acquaintances. In later novels like The Twyborn Affair (1979) White confronted his own homosexuality. Besides the novels he wrote plays and short stories. White was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973.

Leo Tolstoy, Henry James.

See AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND  JR

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