Patrick White was born in England in 1912. He was taken to Australia (where his father owned a sheep farm) when he was six months old, but educated in England, at Cheltenham College and King's College, Cambridge. He settled in London, where he wrote several unpublished novels, then served in the RAF during the Second World War. He returned after the war to Australia, where he became the most considerable figure in modern Australian literature before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. His position as a man of letters was controversial, provoked by his unpredictable public statements and his belief that it is eccentric individuals who offer the only hope of salvation. Technically brilliant, he is one modern novelist to whom the oft-abused epithet 'visionary' can safely be applied. He died in September 1990.
This final, unfinished novel by Nobel laureate White (The Eye of the Storm) cements the late author's reputation as an incisive and compassionate voice of the 20th century. An elegiac portrait of two adolescents displaced during WWII, the novel guides the reader through multiple points of view, including Eirene Sklavos, brought to Australia after her father's death in a Greek prison, and Gilbert Horsfall, who witnessed the death of his friend in the Blitz and attempts to integrate into an unwelcoming community. White's prose is masterful, describing in surprising and ebullient turns of phrase everything from the book's eponymous garden to "thick-lensed spectacles [that] might be helping him not to see the faces he is addressing." The novel was transcribed from White's original handwritten manuscript and left unedited, retaining his notes ("Find out about these mangroves") and the occasional false line. However, the roughness and the notes make a separation of author and text impossible, and reveal White to be as sympathetic and fascinating as Eirene and Gilbert. What White has left is a complete, complex, and beautiful portrait, an important addition to classic contemporary fiction. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
At the time of Nobel laureate White's death in 1990, executors of his estate found this unfinished novel among his papers. Although we will never know the ending White intended, this is a minor imperfection in what is otherwise a beautifully executed, deeply moving story about the blossoming of young love in a dangerous and unpredictable world. Spirited away from Greece to Australia in 1942 as a refugee from World War II, 12-year-old Eirene has already lost her father to the war and will soon lose her mother. White powerfully captures the pathos of Eirene's confusion and loneliness as she attempts to survive alone in a new country among strangers. Eirene is also awakening to love and sexuality, which White depicts with great tenderness and compassion. VERDICT A powerful novel about loss and love that fans of literary fiction will appreciate.-Patrick Sullivan, -Man-chester Community Coll., CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.