20th February 2022
I promise that I really tried. I tried more than once.
I just can’t read Patrick White’s revered ‘Eye of the Storm’. I had to resort to reading reviews about the book’s “high intellect” and “heroic maturity”, just to understand what he was going on about.
OK. I’ll admit it, I may well be too dumb and immature for this ‘masterpiece’.
The opening felt like a Conan Doyle ‘Whodunnit’. The more I read, the more I felt like I was reading the back of a ‘Cluedo – Limited Edition Box’. Even though you were kind enough to share a latte and chat about the book, I still couldn’t find it in me to enjoy it.
Joy gleamed from your eyes as you read passages out loud from the text. The lady on the adjacent table, resplendent in pineapple-patterned cheesecloth wasn’t interested in Patrick’s ‘conscientious characterisation’ and ‘self-indulgent scene setting’ either. I just sat still, chomping my ham and cheese croissant.
I get it. I can see the beauty in his work, but it is just too slow, too dense for me. If I had just one paragraph or two to analyse for school homework, I could manage. But there are so many words, so much detail, that I can’t digest it. Patrick’s ‘degustation novel’ doesn’t just serve up dozens of varied courses, he also serves them on full sized plates, with no concession to their innumerable number and rich nature.
Maybe one day I will find myself back in the ‘Eye of the Storm’ but not too soon please.
I’m not surprised at your response. I understand why you’d find Patrick’s writing too dense. So do most Australians.
Like you, he’s both British and Australian and around your age when he started writing this book. However, that’s where the similarities end. I had a wry laugh to myself as the image you’ve chosen this week is that of the movie poster created when the book was turned into a film. Mine is the cover of the book that sits on my library shelf. The book is a masterpiece, I’ve got my doubts that the film is.
It’s important to read for pleasure but also try and keep going with writers with whom you may not instantly connect with. Every writer teaches you something if you’re open and curious enough to persevere. Maybe I’ll return to Patrick White another time, but for the moment, here is how Patrick describes the eyes of the central character, Elizabeth White. She is close to death, and when the book opens, ‘it was neither night nor day.’
‘She directed at the nurse that milky stare which at times still seemed to unshutter glimpses of a terrifying mineral blue’
‘Again, there was that moment of splintered sapphires, before the lids, dropping like scales, extinguished it.’
You know when you stand in front of a painting and think to yourself, how the hell did the artist do that? That’s exactly how I feel when I read, not just the few lines above, but everything in this book.
And now for something totally different. Let’s look at the fastest selling paperback of all times in the UK. Vintage Press, who acquired the rights, probably couldn’t believe their good fortune. Written by British writer, EL James, the first book (there are three in the series) has been translated into 52 languages and sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Wow! This must be an amazing book, right? So over to you, Bruce, tell me what you think of the opening pages of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. If you haven’t got a copy on your bookshelf, check it out on Amazon…
Follow My Writing Extracts
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.