I have just finished reading Patrick White’s ‘Riders in the Chariot.’
Boy, when the Big Editor in the sky handed out talent he didn’t leave any for the rest of us, did he?
Patrick White, for those who don’t know, was an English-born Australian writer who many think is one of the most important English-language novelists of the 20th century. I have to agree. He published twelve novels, three short-story collections and eight plays. In 1973, he was the first Australian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
He is known for his several points of view and stream of consciousness with which each character is so beautifully and memorably drawn. What struck me were his women. He conjured up all shades. From the saintly to the understandably mad to the useless carping self-righteous shrews who can condone such harm.
He is also known for his long florid sentences. The pages blur with so many words and little white relief it took a bit getting used to. But eventually the sentences uncoiled and began to sun themselves and I could see the jewels sparkling along their backs.
Try this one :
“A fellow on a skewbald nag could have been anybody’s almost-extinguished dream, the way he drew a match along the tight flank of his pants, and almost glanced up, out of his burnt-out eyes.”
Really, not a book to read while trying to write your own. It will leave you suicidal.
His descriptions of Australia conjure a world in which he was obviously in conflict–part fascination/part dread. You can feel the prickly heat, the scratchy weeds by the roadside, the majestic and demonic swirl of the overbearing clouds.
Having lived in Australia now for over a year I could recognize the waving gum trees and tricky weather flickering in the sky.
Patrick White was born to Australian parents in London and spent much of his youth going back and forth between the two countries. He spent the rest of his writing career attempting to describe what it was that best summed up this country. When he finally settled in Australia after the war he felt a foreigner in his home.
The more I read about him, the more I understand how he felt. I have often felt a foreigner in my home, the United States. It doesn’t lessen my love and intrigue, it just makes it all very enigmatic. My relationship would best be described, I suppose, a la Facebook: ‘It’s complicated.’ So I am very excited to read more novels by this writer.
At the end of his life, according to David Malouf, Patrick White was asked for a list of his loves: He responded:
“Silence, the company of friends, unexpected honesty, reading, going to the pictures, dreams, uncluttered landscapes, city streets, faces, good food, cooking small meals, whisky, sex, pugs, the thought of an Australian republic, my ashes floating off at last.”
Sounds like a fair dinkum cobber.
If you want to more about him you can go to this website which is perfectly called: why bother with patrick white? Or listen to a Wheeler Centre video discussing the book. (Wheeler Centre videos are brilliant!)
Personally I’m cracking open another book: his A Fringe of Leaves…..