Patrick White deservedly won the nobel prize for literature. He was a man of extraordinary talent. Books like "Voss" made his reputation. But of his books, the one I remember most vividly is "A Fringe of Leaves". It is a mesmeric story that lingers long in the mind after reading it. I have now read it twice and will very likely read it again.
The story concerns the voyage in 1836 of the Bristol Maid, bound from England for Australia. On board is the beautiful Mrs Ellen Roxburgh a genteel and shy lady of her period. Then shockingly the Bristol Maid is shipwrecked on barren Australian shores where the survivors are captured by Aborigines and subjected to torture and worse. It is a descent back to mans primeval origins. Shorn of civilisation it is back to the Darwinian struggle where only the fit and strong survive. Mrs Roxburgh's humble past comes to her aid in the grim battle for survival, and she is a born survivor. In the will to live she begins to shed all the superfluous trappings of the civilisation she knew. The true Mrs Roxburgh disturbingly begins to surface.
The novel is wonderfully well conceived and says much about mans true nature. Scratch beneath the surface and we are not so far removed from our cave man past. In fact in many respects it might be argued they were more civilised. Remove all the baggage of so called civilisation and we descend back to our true nature. Manners and morals simply do not feed an empty belly and this is at the heart of the story. It is also one of the most tastefully erotic books that you are ever likely to read. But all in the best possible taste of course. Mrs Roxburgh in finding her primeval origins also becomes one of the most attractive literary heroines. I was unrequitedly in love with her much as I was with Kit Moresby in "The Sheltering Sky", which was equally as erotic. But most of all the book is utterly compelling and a damn good well written read. Highly recommended.