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The Vivisector Paperback – 21 Jul 1994

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (21 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009932461X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099324614
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 188,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"One of the greatest magicians of fiction ... White's scope is vast and his invention endless" (Observer)

"Patrick White is, in the finest sense, a world novelist. His themes are catholic and complex and he pursues them with a single-minded energy and vision" (Guardian)

"Australia's greatest novelist" (Geoffrey Rush)

Book Description

A tour de force of sexual and psychological menace

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Customer Reviews

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This is one of only 2 or 3 books that has remained in my head for most of my life. One of those great books that need a little wrestling with. But bear with it and you will find a great story with vivid characters written by somebody with a fantastic command of language and how that reflects people as they actually are and images and thoughts that will inform how you view the world if you let it. To my eye, in some ways more self- revealing of Graham Greene's thought that there is a chip of ice in the heart of every great artist, than Patrick White's auto-biography Flaws in the Glass,(paraphrased as Claws in the Arse by some of those he upset.)

Not a fashionable book in many ways then, over-written for some tastes, long sentences and dares to take the possibility of a divinity seriously as the ultimate artist. Most books I read, I can predict pretty much what they are trying to do in a few pages and they have little to say and little to make me think and keep my interest. This is different, beautifully and shockingly truthful about human nature and its relation to acts of artistic creation, it will take you somewhere different to where almost anyone else is going. Half of you will probably hate it but just read the wretched thing..
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By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
In his longest novel, written in 1970, Nobel Prize-winning author White examines the question of an artist's creativity, where it comes from, whether it can be controlled, and what obligations, if any, accompany it. As he traces the life of Hurtle Duffield from the age of four until his death as an elderly avant-garde artist, we see Duffield always as somehow different from his peers. The son of a laundress and a bottle collector, Hurtle is from birth inspired, painting large images on walls as a toddler, but he recognizes at an early age that "people look down at their plates if you said something was 'beautiful.'" To provide him with opportunities which will allow his genius to flourish, his parents sell him to a wealthy family at the outset of the novel.

As a member of the Courtney family, Hurtle travels and becomes educated, though he continues to interpret the world more visually than thoughtfully. For him, the usual emotional traumas of adolescence are accompanied by unique questions of his identity, both because of his two families and also because of his view of the world. Not religious, he sees God as the Great Vivisector, and men treating each other as animals. As an artist, he behaves as a vivisector himself, using women who love him as vehicles for his own self-expression. White says about his painting of one model, "[Hurtle] disemboweled her while she was still alive." Throughout his life, Hurtle continues to search for love, inspiration, self-expression, and some sort of balance in his life between his immense need to paint, his desire for personal connection, and his simultaneous need to be alone.

White's prose style is direct and concise, elegantly simple, and easy to understand.
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By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 1 July 2012
Format: Paperback
"The Vivisector" is an exceptional novel about art, sitting in the very front rank of literature. It is a difficult, bitter, at moments nasty novel concerned not with prettiness, but unflattering truth. This is not a comfortable read.

The central character, Duffield, is an Anglo-Australian who grew up in that period of bourgeois affluence stretching from the Edwardian age to the high 1920s. (He is, therefore, of the same generation as White.) Finding himself an artist by disposition, not choice, he shuns his background, the wealth, respectability, and leaves the country. There follows a lengthy period honing his abilities in depression-racked London, then he returns to Australia and leads a squalid existence, fretting over canvases and compositions, reviling the art scene and fashionable society. For many years he lives alone and isolated in a rural setting (shades of Hill End here), then relocates to a rundown terraced house in the inner suburbs (presumably Darlinghurst or Surrey Hills) Inch by inch, his work matures, evolves, intensifies. And, almost unnoticed, he develops a following, and the respect of the mighty.

Duffield is White's second attempt to portray an artist. The first had been the unrecognised, self taught painter, Dubbo, in his novel Riders In The Chariot. If this earlier creator figure was striving to make paintings of visionary intensity where sacred truths are revealed, "The Vivisector" shows an artist grappling to show a more pessimistic existentialist perspective of reality: where Dubbo is a romantic, Duffield is a bleak nihilist.
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Format: Paperback
After deciding for a while which book of White's to read first, I went for this. This book is probably the most accurate description of an artists mind and thought process committed to text, I very much doubt there is anything superior. It will not be a comfortable read for many, as the lead character `Hurtle Duffield' is one of those who constantly sees through to the uncomfortable underlying truth present in nearly all of us; that truth which most of us are happy to ignore, or are even unaware of. This means that nearly all of the characters are un-likable in some way, partly due to the fact that it seems no-one is truly liked by the protagonist. Then it is also true that the lead character is very hard to relate as well, and if it is true that all great artists are selfish, this book does a fine job of demonstrating how.
The early section of the book, where Hurtle is identified as `different' by his working class parents due to the way he sees beauty in everyday objects is for me the most interesting. Set in rural Australia, It shows us how his mind is shaped in his early years, and the impact on him when he is essentially `sold' to a rich family who think of themselves as cultured enough to nurture Hurtle's genius. But he soon sees through this to his new Mother's and Father's internal weaknesses. This section is often written in second person, which is a rare form, but helps us to identify with the child Hurtle's thoughts and feelings and is extremely effective.
Central to the story is Hurtle's adoptive sister, who is disabled and disfigured. She becomes central to the artists paintings, and becomes one of the only characters that Hurtle shows unquestioning kindness to, although by this stage she has already been on the receiving end of some of his cruellest actions.
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