Mavis Thorpe Clark Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mavis Thorpe Clark 1912?–

(Has also written under pseudonym of Mavis Latham) Australian young adult novelist, adult biographer and short story writer, and scriptwriter for children's radio programs. Either the outback, the virgin forests of Victoria, the opal mines, the islands off Tasmania, or some other well-researched Australian setting is the background for each of Clark's teenage novels. Her gift for atmosphere combined with strong plot development makes her books extremely popular in her native Australia, where she has won several awards, most notably the 1967 Children's Book of the Year award for The Min-Min. This novel, which most critics consider to be her best, brought Clark to the attention of British and American young adult readership. Most of her subsequent books have been published in Great Britain and America as well as Australia. Her novels tend to be concerned with social issues, to the detriment of her characters and plot, some critics contend. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60, and Something about the Author, Vol. 8.)

Reg in The Min-min is a young tough whom neither father nor schoolmaster can control. His sister Sylvie is beginning to look beyond the cramped, uneasy life her family leads in the settlers' camp on the Australian railroad, and when Reg is finally threatened with "an institution" they leave home to cross the desert to the home of the Tucker family. The descriptive matter has all the attractive menace of the Australian landscape, yet the actual flight of the children is less gripping than one expects. The min-min, the will o' the wisp light in the desert, is an inconstant symbol in every way…. The inevitable resolution is not shirked, however. Sylvie returns to look after the family, Reg faces the institution with increased self-control. (p. 454)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1967; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), May 25, 1967.

In Britain it is hard to imagine a land where it hardly ever rains, where the sun blazes down day after day, and where it is possible to go for miles without seeing any sign of life or habitation. Mavis Thorpe Clark has chosen this setting for [The Min-Min] and made it possible to realise that such conditions do exist. Her characters are real people, so that along with them one can feel the heat and the thirst and wonder if one will die a lingering death out in the Australian desert…. Children of all ages will appreciate this story because it will mirror their own lives, to a certain extent, and yet give them a glimpse into a completely different way of life at the same time. (p. 179)

The Junior Bookshelf, June, 1967.

Blue Above the Trees is a brilliantly fresh example [of pioneer literature]. In the 1870s the Whitburns have come from Devon to cultivate 600 acres of infinitely ancient forest in Victoria, Australia….

[There are family tensions enough] to keep any story going, and the author makes the most of them: very subtly, too, for the way of life of the family of lyrebirds that Simon observes year after year is ironically but unobtrusively contrasted with the dissatisfactions and strains within the human family. All is well in the end, but not until after real excitements—of achievement or setback. The story gives one a haunting familiarity with the forest, the paths through it, the growing areas of cultivation. (p. 583)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), June 6, 1968.

The plot [of Blue Above the Trees] is gripping, the characterization strong and the background authentic. The Whitburn family come out from England in the middle of the nineteenth century to retrieve their fortunes in the great virgin forest of Victoria…. The blue above the trees of the title is symbolic of the clearing of the vast forest and also one feels of the clearing of their way of life. In the raw, problems are stripped to their basic conceptions. The period is a part of the development of the Commonwealth that we in Britain know very little about and this book will be a good introduction for teenage readers, both boys and girls. The descriptions of life in early cabins, both domestic and social, are interesting and those of the primitive jungle are magnificent, one can almost smell it. Thirteen to fifteen year olds will be fascinated by it and in a strange way will possibly identify themselves, subconsciously, with their Whitburn contemporaries in their struggle for freedom, parental and otherwise. (pp. 235-36)

The Junior Bookshelf, August, 1968.