White, Patrick (Vol. 5)

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White, Patrick 1912–

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White, an English-born Australian novelist, playwright, and short story writer, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. His novels, vast in scope, are "multilayered and exquisite."

Throughout this long book [The Eye of the Storm], Mr White curbs what his detractors have considered to be his excesses and, possibly in the curbing, dilutes some of his prodigious gifts. Gone are the baroque satirical setpieces such as the magnificent party for the artist in The Vivisector; instead a small dinner party or two which deflate the idle burghers of Sydney, but the targets seem hardly worth it. We are no longer treated to those superb passages of elliptical, truncated and barbarous Strine; just the odd phrase from Mrs Cush, the cleaning woman; but why give her such a crude joke name? Why call the most stupid, self-satisfied nurse Sister Badgery? Mr White is too great a writer to trifle with such vulgarity in a book so finely wrought as this. Why, also, does he bring in some of his favourite themes, invite comparison with earlier versions, and produce definite regressions? After the wonderfully moving and piteous Greek heiress who so loved the vivisector, why introduce briefly, and inevitably palely, the Greek mother of Sister de Santis? The noble, loving and eternally baffled nurse is a superb creation compared with which her mother seems dross.

The German-Jewish housekeeper with her incompetent theatrical past is an interesting near-victim of the holocaust, but when she recalls her escape from the gas, she also recalls that other escaper from Nazi Germany, Professor Himmelfarb in Riders in the Chariot and the comparison seems sacrilegious. These are harsh criticisms but they are aimed at weaknesses in the work of a writer who has long overtaken the need to toy with characters and situations which are less than perfect, and they are faults in a book which, by its own ambition, should not contain them.

These faults, irritating as they are, do not, however, detract from the marvellous precision of the writing. They are perhaps best described as errors of taste in a work whose complex structure is architecturally perfect and whose style is much freer, more devastatingly precise than even its most august predecessors. In earlier books there was a tendency towards the densely clotted, inexorable slow march of Faulkner. In The Eye of the Storm Mr White has attained, without the orotundity, some of the deadly irony and the epigrammatic skill of Henry James. James himself could hardly have bettered the mutually embarrassed encounter of Princess Dorothy and Sister Manhood….

As one surveys this book and its substantial number of characters, it is almost impossible … to find a single human being who engages the reader's sympathy, let alone, and much more importantly, the author's. Mr White's formidable satirical gifts have previously seemed apposite and just, linked from Voss onwards with huge compassion and the creation of men and women with true nineteenth-century fictional grandeur. In The Eye of the Storm no stone of human character is left unturned without the revelation of some evil or distasteful worm beneath….

If one takes as basic a theme as sibling rivalry, sibling love and sibling sex, and considers that cold climax between Dorothy and Basil Hunter at Kudjeri and compares it with the Dostoevskian intensity and compassion of the two brothers in The Solid Mandala, one sees the disastrous gap between this chillingly brilliant new book and the sheer moral grandeur of its great predecessors….

The weight of hatred, disgust and dislike is overpowering, and, one suspects, finally excessive and hence fatally detrimental to what should have been a great novel. In comparison with most of today's fiction, The Eye of the Storm is truly remarkable, with its relentless narrative thrust, the lucidity of its style, the all-seeing...

(The entire section contains 4079 words.)

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White, Patrick (Vol. 3)

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White, Patrick (Vol. 7)