The Hanging Garden – Patrick White

30 Dec

15983323Sydney, Australia, 1942. Two children, on the cusp of adolescence, have been spirited away from the war in Europe and given shelter in a house on Neutral Bay, taken in by the charity of an old widow who wants little to do with them. The boy, Gilbert, has escaped the Blitz. The girl, Eirene, lost her father in a Greek prison. Left to their own devices, the children forge a friendship of startling honesty, forming a bond of uncommon complexity that they sense will shape their destinies for years to come.

Seen through the eyes of the young the world can seem like a distressing, grotesque and thoroughly grey place, especially for children living through extraordinary times and upheavals.

In his last and unfinished novel, Patrick White has the seed of what was to be his final epic.  With the trademark downbeat feeling that he does so well, the themes of longing and melancholy course through this work and punctuate right at the heart of the social ills that society attempts to hide beneath a veneer of respectability.

tonight I am the Meccano set no-one will ever put together, even if all the bits are there.

Class is the epitome of the social disease and this commentary into the nature of the adults is a parody of the respectability and selflessness they portray, the inherent selfishness of human nature, even in good acts is shown to be most farcical in the face of an innocent child’s perception.

the character viewpoint changes rapidly and seamlessly as innermost thoughts are explored in brutal honesty.  At times, the perspective changes once or twice within the same paragraph but never to the detriment of the narrative flow.  The beauty of White’s style is that he leaves you in no doubt about what each character is doing or thinking at any time…in a way his style – for me – depicts the all round complete character portrait.

Every character has their bad points exquisitely rendered, be it class prejudice or pure ignorance of circumstance. This is off set with the frighteningly mature voices and views of the children, which are a merciless indictment of life and the circumstances it throws at people.

The juvenile conversations blended in with adult intuitiveness reveal a litany of terrible traits in this raw and uncompromising struggle against loneliness and surrounded by an alien culture.  I’m painting a miserable picture of a view on life that perhaps people don’t want to see or use as a basis for self-examination.  Admittedly life in all its ugliness is poured forth in this book but it’s refreshing to get such a raw and realistic angle on things.

Patrick White is an author who deserves much more coverage than he seems to get, this unfinished novel – discovered posthumously in his notes – is perhaps not the best starting point for newcomers. The lack of punctuation is due to the draft being copied verbatim with no editing and whilst there is colloquialism it’s not impenetrable and I found the vulgarity a bit off-putting.  The word gelatinous is in this book though so that makes me happy and allows me to end this review on a high note.


Posted by on 30/12/2013 in Fiction


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17 responses to “The Hanging Garden – Patrick White

  1. Al

    30/12/2013 at 12:15

    I can imagine life in the wars was awful and this looks to show it to it’s worst. Instead this looks like it shows the negative side rather than what they show in the films of children somehow coping with a smile on their faces.

    I don’t think this would be a book for me, bit it does look good on some levels


    • Ste J

      30/12/2013 at 12:34

      The realism does make it somewhat bleak but it is also refreshing to see that aspect. All this pulling together business was always slightly suspect in my eyes and this goes some way to confirming that the veneer was just that.


      • Al

        30/12/2013 at 12:36

        I’m glad 🙂


  2. anna amundsen

    31/12/2013 at 01:02

    Ashamed to say (or maybe not, since there is so much literature of quality that one simply cannot get to all of it) I knew nothing of White.. But, reading this post I think I am on my way to meet one hell of a writer in a year to come.


    • Ste J

      02/01/2014 at 11:54

      White is an epic writer…I really loved Voss, which was my first and is one heck of an introduction. I would recommend you try that before this as you love your indepth books and that is mos’ def’ in that category.


  3. sakuraandme

    31/12/2013 at 05:59

    Happy New Year to you!! 🙂
    WooHoo! Hope you have a wonderful night whatever it is you may be doing!
    Have a drink for me or 2 or 3 or 4. LMAO May 2014 bring you everything you have ever wanted and more! Hugs Paula xxxxx


    • Ste J

      02/01/2014 at 11:47

      Happy New Year to you as well my friend! I had some generously poured rum and cokes which made me happy. I trust yours was as good! xx


      • sakuraandme

        02/01/2014 at 18:13

        Hahaha! Pfffft to the half and full measures, who came up with that thing anyway? LMAO Hugs and have a great day, Paula xxx


  4. Tom Gething

    31/12/2013 at 08:11

    He’s a great writer with an inimitable style. How interesting that he wrote with little punctuation in his drafts, almost as if he were staving off consciousness to stay in the dream state of writing. I’ll have to look for this. Thanks for reviewing it.


    • Ste J

      02/01/2014 at 12:01

      Either that or he really hoped no one would read his work before it was properly corrected. He did ask for all his letters and unfinished works to be burned. I need to read more of his works…I have one back in England that I haven’t read…can’t remember which one though…


  5. LuAnn

    01/01/2014 at 07:41

    Although this does seem to be a book that may be difficult to read at times due to its tragic nature, I feel drawn to it. I am placing it high on my list of books to read. Thanks Ste J! 🙂


    • Ste J

      02/01/2014 at 11:43

      Yay, keep that pile growing!!! I would recommend Voss – the other work I have read by White…so far – as an even more epic book. I should review that soon.


  6. thejerseygal®™

    16/01/2014 at 19:05

    Yah, gelatinous puts a big ol’ poop eatin’ grin on my face, too! Kind of makes me think it’s a good reason to exercise! That wiggly, giggly, blobby feeling on the arms, butt, thighs is so not for me haha.
    Another great review!


    • Ste J

      19/01/2014 at 18:43

      Why thank you…I think gelatinous is under used but yes it does have the…well you describe it perfectly. I never considered the word in that way before…


      • thejerseygal®™

        20/01/2014 at 18:12

        It must be a woman thing. Not one of us wants to be mentioned in that way. Haha



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