THE LAUREATE: Patrick White was born in Australia in 1912 and died in 1990. He is the only Australian laureate. He was born wealthy and sent to school in England, where he became interested in the theater. Read more about him here and here
WHAT I’M READING: As much as I can get away with out of The Cockatoos, a collection of short stories, before I need to go to work today. I have every intention of picking up The Vivisector later, because it sounds awesome.
REVIEW: I’m doing this story by story. A Woman’s Hand: This is hard to explain. There’s an old married couple, Harold and Evelyn. In the past, they were fairly well off, having been the recipients of wealthy English condescension patronage, but now they live in an apartment in Sydney. Harold has been friends with Clem since their school days, off and on. Evelyn knew Nesta in school and kept in touch. Clem and Nesta are both largely self-contained people, and the story is about Harold and Evelyn’s interactions with them, I suppose. Harold is content to admire Clem from afar, but Evelyn is one of those people who, as Douglas Adams would put it, has to keep talking so her brain doesn’t start working. There is an extensive flashback to H&E’s salad days, when they could go off to live in Cairo when it was too ungodly hot for their patrons to stay there (what an honor!). On one occasion, Clem visits and tries to bring his Greek friend, who has given him a translation of Cavafy. (These are coded signs that Clem might or might not be gay.) In the present, after a visit to Clem’s hut on a cliff side, Evelyn decides that he needs woman in his life, so she hooks him up with her good friend whom she hasn’t talked to in years, Nesta. Clem dies within the year and Nesta is admitted to a mental institution for a nervous breakdown.
The Full Belly is about the sorry depths a once-proud Greek family sinks during the German occupation in World War II. The young boy, Costa, dreams of becoming a great pianist, but the need to trade his body for food to scrape by drains him of what it takes to be an artist.
The Night The Prowler concerns another family with pretensions of respectability who think their daughter has been raped and are terrified about telling her poor fiancé about how they are giving him damaged goods. It starts that way, at least, then we find through the daughter’s voice that the rapist was impotent. I think this is enough.
The theme that ties at least these three stories together is people letting their perceptions of themselves get in the way of reality. I can dig that
RECOMMENDED?: This is tricky. One of the most important duties the author has is tackling problematic themes and scenarios, because fiction is a powerful tool for understanding The Other. That said, though, that last story really sticks in my craw. I (obviously) didn’t give a full description, but it made me very uncomfortable. I’ll still give Patrick White another chance, because I know novels were really his form of choice and The Vivisector sounds pretty amazing still.
WHAT’S NEXT: Next week is Greek Week, when I read Elytis and Seferis (but maybe not in that order)