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on 31 December 2013
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.

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.
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on 26 September 2013
A masterly narrative of life in a stultifying Australian suburb during WW2, told from the point of view of a precocious but socially isolated Greek immigrant girl. White writes with typical underplayed and penetrating insight, using deft touches to reveal vast hinterlands of loneliness. Unsaid longings populate the shadows.

The novel was unfinished inasmuch as White had not edited and re-drafted the final version before he died. This shows in some aspects, such as where the girl's diary appears too knowing or where, occasionally, we are told what to think. But these are small blemishes in a minor work of a great writer.
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on 12 November 2014
A masterly narrative of life in a stultifying Australian suburb during WW2, told from the point of view of a precocious but socially isolated Greek immigrant girl. White writes with typical underplayed and penetrating insight, using deft touches to reveal vast hinterlands of loneliness. Unsaid longings populate the shadows.

The novel was unfinished inasmuch as White had not edited and re-drafted the final version before he died. This shows in some aspects, such as where the girl's diary appears too knowing or where, occasionally, we are told what to think. But these are small blemishes in a minor work of a great writer.
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Set during World War II in Sydney, the novel explores the world of two children: Eirene Sklavos and Gilbert Horsfall. Eirene is the daughter of an Australian woman, and a Greek communist who has been murdered in prison. Gilbert (Gil) is English: his father is an officer in India, his mother killed by a bomb during the Blitz in London. Gil and Eirene are thrown together in Essie Bulpit's ramshackle home on Neutral Bay, with its large, lush, neglected garden.

The garden is not a paradise, it is a refuge. While Gil and Eirene have enough room to each be alone, they are drawn together. The garden, with its lantana and gums, vines and pittosporum, looking out over Sydney Harbour, provides both a safe place and some common ground away from the culturally dangerous public worlds of society and school. Gil and Eirene become closer, and are largely at ease with each other in the garden where adults and other children do not intrude with their expectations and rules.

`Any conversation they might have had was buried inside him.'

Gil and Eirene are parted: the war may largely be distant from Sydney, but death is not. And, as Gil and Eirene move to live their separate new lives, I found myself less caught up in the story and more curious about where Patrick White intended to take it. What did the future hold for Gil and Eirene, and what twists and turns would have been involved in their journeys? Would they be reunited? Who will they become?

`Is this where we belong then?'

While `The Hanging Garden' is unfinished, this part is not incomplete. I might wonder about what the future holds for Gil and Eirene, but the world depicted in the novel, with the circumscribed worlds inhabited by a number of the characters is finely drawn. They are memorable, some of these characters: the blowsy Essie Bulpit; Eirene's Aunt Ally and her husband Harold; and some of the school teachers - Mr Harbord and Miss Hammersley.

`The Hanging Garden' is the first part of a novel found amongst Patrick White's papers after his death in September 1990. From David Marr's note at the end of the novel, we learn that the draft was written in blue biro by Patrick White on quires of foolscap paper, and that the final novel was intended to be in three parts. Illness, age and the demands of public life each played a part in preventing completion. The incomplete novel, transcribed from Patrick White's handwritten draft, has been published this year - to mark the centenary of White's birth.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 19 May 2012
What a gift from the Gods! To find something new of Patrick's, finished or not, is serendipity. His writing is ever beautiful and his spirit timeless.
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