Book Review – The Hanging Garden by Patrick White

Following in the tradition of great artists like Jimi Hendrix, Patrick White didn’t allow his passing to cramp his productive output. To the joy of his fans, his final work-in-progress, The Hanging Garden is now in print. While unfinished it allows readers the opportunity to explore the creative mind of one of the Twentieth Century’s most original authors.

As White never finished the book the publisher included a blurb at the beginning that read:

The Hanging Garden has been transcribed from Patrick White’s handwritten manuscript and, in the absence of a living author to consult, not edited.

With that noted, I found the writing much more polished than expected. It did include White’s trademark unusual point of view switches. His novels always challenge and keep me alert. This one was no different. The only time I had a sense of reading a draft version of a novel occurred when an author’s note appeared in the text.

The classroom is rocking by now with the swell of the sea. Hidden in the mangroves blacks are waiting to spear the landing parties of explorers. [Find out about these mangroves.] (Page 96)

I’ve read a number of White’s other books. Going into The Hanging Garden, expected to read some clever usage of language. It didn’t disappoint.

She would rather not be faced with things, even those she knows about. (Page 112)

Mrs. Bulpit was a pale woman except where the mouth had been painted over. Her forearms, hands, and face could have been molded from natural marzipan. (Page 3)

In any case, he was not emotional, unless in those secret compartments where he never allowed anyone to enter. (Page 13)

And my personal favorite:

I shall not write this poem. Memory is safer than invisible ink, that all the school knows about, playing at spies, exchanging coded messages. (Page 115)

In terms of the story, it did leave me wanting more. Part of that stemmed from White only completing a third of the novel. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the premise. The narrative centered on the lives of two children uprooted due to the Second World War. It definitely stimulated by interest to discover how their lives progressed into adulthood.

I always enjoy reading incomplete works by writers I admire. It makes me feel less ashamed of all the stories and novels I still haven’t finished. With that understood, since The Hanging Garden only represented a portion of the final work, the overall story is incomplete. As always with this author, the writing can be very difficult to comprehend. For that reason I can only recommend to hard-core Patrick White fans.

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