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"I only want to be left alone--to be myself--when I find out what that is.",
This review is from: The Hanging Garden (Paperback)
When Eirene Sklavos, a school-age child, sees Mrs. Bulpit for the first time, she does not realize she will be living with Mrs. Bulpit indefinitely. Having traveled with her mother from Greece to Australia to escape the horrors of World War II, Eirene has already dealt with the death of her father, and shortly after Eirene meets Mrs. Bulpit for the first time, her mother departs for Alexandria, leaving Eirene to deal with the results. Alone in a foreign country, Eirene must learn the hard way who she is and where she belongs. When she meets Gilbert Horsfall, a boy her own age who is also living with Mrs. Bulpit, she discovers that he, too, has growing pains, and he, too, is a foreigner to Australia. The degree to which the two children may be able to help each other is a question for much of the novel, as are the effects of uncontrollable outside forces on their lives as they grow and develop.
Developing his themes of identity and connection (or lack of it) in an unfinished book that he never tried to publish, author Patrick White keeps his story line simple by using children as the main characters while he experiments with a variety of writing techniques very different from the bold, straight-forward narrative style of his longer, more famous early novels. This novel very nearly remained unpublished and unknown. White had indicated before his death in 1990 that he wanted all his incomplete works destroyed, but though he did have the opportunity to destroy this work himself, he let it remain intact during his lifetime. It was not until 2010 that his executor gave her permission for this novel to be published.
The result is a rare opportunity to read a hand-written and personally edited novel by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White, which, in addition to being a good story, provides an unprecedented, direct insight into how he thinks and creates. This novel, according to David Marr, who wrote the Afterword, was intended to be presented in three parts, of which this manuscript was to be Part I. The ending of the novel as we see it here is a bit "thin," compared to the earlier part of the book, but White has a clear sense of direction with his story and his characters and has left all his literary experimentation intact.
The constantly shifting points of view take some getting used to. Initially, these are not clearly delineated and the reader knows nothing about the individual characters to give clues to who is "speaking." Gradually, Eirene and Gil begin to emerge as their own persons, and the reader begins to understand their backgrounds, their memories of "home," and their reactions to what is happening to them. Sometimes, the points of view change several times within a single paragraph, and White even introduces a stream-of-consciousness style. White's gift for description keeps the reader engaged, even when the children's points of view and the narrative line may be challenging. His children act like children throughout, even as they question who they are and where they belong, and give a liveliness to the novel which benefits from the novel's experimental style. This work is a major contribution to the understanding of Patrick White and his writing, and readers familiar with White's work will treasure the insights even as they enjoy the characters and empathize with their struggles.