Tuesday, April 04, 2017

THE TREE OF MAN









The Tree of Man, Patrick White, Viking Press, 1955, 480 pp
 
 
Patrick White was an Australian novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. My friend and I of the newly formed Literary Snobs reading group picked this book for our first meeting. Not many people write like this anymore. His prose is highly literary, filled with poetical passages and lyrical descriptions of place, weather, and characters.
 
The Tree of Man follows the life of one man in almost completely chronological order from childhood to death. All along the way, the author adds in pithy moments of truth about human life delivered both from the main characters' points of view as well as from his close third person narration. The pace is generally as leisurely as a sunrise or sunset in the Australian outback but there are occasional spurts of action which ramp up the reader's speed of turning the pages.

Stan Parker is a loner who had inherited a piece of land in the undeveloped hills outside of Sydney. The book opens as he arrives on the land at about the age of twenty. Sixty years or so later when he dies his humble home is one of the last original structures still standing in what has become the suburbs of Sydney. He had picked up an orphan from the nearest town and married her. Amy is another type of loner but together they evolved a love that brought them through parenthood and plenty of disappointments. They do not come through unscathed yet somehow maintain a tenacious grip on life through stoicism, continuous grueling hard work on their dairy farm, and a rather twitchy sort of loyalty to each other.

In any life, the majority of days and nights comprise a tedious, boring repetitiveness enlivened by the usual momentous events, such as falling in love, births, extreme weather, wars, betrayals, and deaths. Thus, reading this book for me was not unlike living, though I have not experienced a pioneer life of backbreaking labor.

Life also contains periods of emotional and psychological upheaval that bring to the forefront the dark side of any personality. When Stan and particularly Amy experience such periods the writing plumbs that darkness with an unflinching gaze. At those points in the novel, I felt like Joyce Carol Oates had grabbed the pen.

It was a mixed reading experience made up of wonder, tedium, and moments of personal enlightenment. I am fairly eclectic and embracive in my reading so I let Patrick White determine my reading speed and my emotional balance for the many hours spent with his book. I will say that not once did I not believe him. In the next to last chapter, when Stan dies, I felt Amy's feelings. You expect death, you are powerless before it, and yet life goes on if not much longer in yourself, then in your offspring.

If his other novels are anything like this then he deserved his prize. The banality of human life is everywhere around us and he was able to describe that as well as clothe it with the beautiful and poetic essence that gets us through.


(The Tree of Man is out of print. Even my library did not have a copy nor has it been made into an eBook so far. I found my copy at Abe Books in paperback.)

13 comments:

  1. Beautiful review, Judy! I typically don't like too much of ordinary life in my reading because it tends to become tedious, but certain authors can pull it off flawlessly, Tracy Chevalier comes to mind.

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    1. Thank you Carmen. I need to catch up on Tracy Chevalier because you are right about that.

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  2. The author wins the Nobel Prize and his book is out of print? huh. I guess I don't know of Patrick White. And I'm a bit unsure if I'd find the story tedious or worthwhile. I can do everyday life stories sometimes. Nice review.

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    1. Thanks Susan. I guess for me, art is what lifts the everyday out of tedium. I would never have heard of him except for the Nobel Prize angle. I am constantly amazed at all the literary prize winners from back in the day of whom I had never heard.

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  3. Literary Snobs? Now there's a concept for a reading group. And this sounds like the perfect book for it - a book only a snob could love! I admire your indefatigability in sticking with it.

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    1. Often you make me smile with your comments, Dorothy.

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  4. Thanks for reminding me of this book! I too liked this earlier work of Patrick White a lot... as I expressed in my review of February 2016 (»»» read my review of The Tree of Man). Interesting that you couldn't find the ebook because I know that amazon.de sells the kindle edition. Possible that other formats aren't available.

    LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

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    1. I think it was your review that led me to choose this novel for the first meeting of my new reading group: The Literary Snobs. We intend to read only Nobel Prize winning authors. I read your review again and now it means even more after having read the book myself. I checked Amazon US and they don't have an ebook version for sale.

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  5. I love the depth of your reviews. This is a new to me title. Have a great weekend Judy

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    1. Thank you Diane! You are so kind to say so.

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  6. The Literary Snobs is your reading group that only reads the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature isn’t it? I've been waiting a moment for a recommendation. I have never heard of this book, but it seems to me very good. Have a great week ahead :)

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    1. Good memory my friend! I think this is the kind of book you would like.

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    2. I always read posts :) Okay I'll add to my reading list :)

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