Patrick White was born on this day in England in 1912. He was then taken to Australia, where his father owned a sheep farm, when he was six months old. He was educated in England at Cheltenham College and King’s College, Cambridge. He settled in London, where he wrote several unpublished novels, then served in the RAF during the war. He returned to Australia after the war.
He became the most considerable figure in modern Australian literature, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. The great poet of Australian landscape, he turned its vast empty spaces into great mythic landscapes of the soul. His position as a man of letters was controversial, provoked by his acerbic, unpredictable public statements and his belief that it is eccentric individuals who offer the only hope of salvation. He died in September 1990.
Random House Australia has worked to bring Patrick White back in this his centenary year. All of his novels and his excoriating memoir Flaws in the Glass are available as eBooks and we have published new editions of a number of his novels including the film tie-in edition of The Eye of The Storm, Vintage Classics editions of The Aunt’s Story and The Tree of Man and commemorative editions of Voss and The Vivisector.
If you want to celebrate Patrick White’s centenary and start reading his books I recommend you start with The Hanging Garden. The manuscript for this part of a novel (part one of three we think, around 45,000 words) was found amongst his papers after he died and it is such a beautiful story, simply told that it could not be left lying in a box to be examined only by silverfish and PhD students.
Happy birthday Patrick White!
Booktopia would like to thank Meredith Curnow for sharing her thoughts with the Booktopia Blog and our readers.
Meredith Curnow is the Knopf Vintage publisher at Random House Australia. This role gives her the honour and pleasure of publishing established writers of the calibre of Gail Jones, Tom Keneally, Frank Moorhouse, Roger McDonald, David Malouf and writers at an earlier stage of their career including Deborah Forster, Kate Forsyth and Jacqueline Lunn. Prior to joining Random House, Meredith was the director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
And here is the Book Guru’s review: The Hanging Garden may just change the way Patrick White is thought of by Australian readers. For many years now, the mere mention of his name has sent shivers down readers’ spines. Granted, for a small percentage of readers, these were the shivers of ecstasy but for the vast majority they were aroused by fear, dread and, for some, loathing. Australia’s only recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature has long polarised Australia’s readers. He is a writer we are told we ought to respect but as many find his prose impenetrable this imperative has more often than not borne the fruit of resentment.
The Hanging Garden is different and comes to us at the right moment. As I see it, Australian literature is enjoying a popular revival. A more accessible prose style has been embraced by many of our best writers. From Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, to Charlotte Wood’s Animal People, to Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, we can sense a new confidence emerging. In such a climate The Hanging Garden is bound to find a receptive audience.
Begun by an ailing Patrick White back in 1981, The Hanging Garden was left unfinished at the time of his death. What we have been left with appears to have been Part One of a larger novel. Unfinished but by no means incomplete The Hanging Garden describes the experience of two refugee children brought to the relative safety of Sydney, Australia during WWII. A Greek/Australian girl, Eirene rescued from Greece during the English retreat and an English boy, Gilbert, who narrowly escaped oblivion during the London Blitz.
Told largely from Eirene’s point of view The Hanging Garden is a story of adolescent love, with all of its latent complications, its beauty and its disquiet.
Patrick White brings Gilbert and Eirene’s experiences in wartime Sydney to life with a lightness of touch which belies the depths of each word’s foundations. A great wisdom informs each scene and yet we read swiftly and eagerly. There is a startlingly raw truth to this story which conjured up in me long forgotten memories. This is great writing for our time. A book which will remind some of Sumner Locke Elliot’s Careful He Might Hear You and others of Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran.
Moving and beautiful, The Hanging Garden is a Patrick White novel we can all read with pleasure. Five Stars.
Reviewed by John Purcell. This review was first published in Bookseller+Publisher magazine