Lisa at ANZ LitLovers referred yesterday to ABC Radio National’s The Book Show program on Patrick White’s The solid mandala. This is in fact part of weeklong series they are doing on Australian classics. They have chosen an intriguing – but not unappealing – list of works to discuss:
- Marcus Clarke’s His natural life (which I’ve always called For the term of his natural life but I discovered that this shorter title was the one preferred by Clarke)
- Fergus Hume’s Mystery of a Hansom Cab
- Patrick White’s The solid mandala
- Thea Astley’s The multiple effects of rainshadow
- Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia
Dare I admit it? I’ve only read two of these: the White and the Astley.
Although I haven’t read as much of White as I want (plan) to, I’ve liked everything I’ve read. I like his style; I like the things he talks about. The solid mandala’s style includes multiple points of view, sentence fragments, and a somewhat complicated time structure: I’m a bit of a sucker for these techniques as they tend to keep my brain in gear while I’m reading. And while it sounds terrible really, there’s an aridity to his characters that fascinates me. This aridity is well evident in The solid mandala. It’s there in the repetition of yellow-brown colours: the main characters’ surname is Brown, their neighbours are the Duns, and the colour yellow features regularly (“waves of yellowing grass”, “yellow fluctuating light”, “yellow feet”). It’s there in the description of characters as dry and brittle (Waldo is “dry and correct”, “felt as brittle as a sponge” and “had shrivelled up”). And, somewhat ironically, it’s even there in the colour blue (“the moons of sky-blue ice fell crashing” and “his heart contracted inside the blue, reverberating ice”). It’s a desperately sad book about failed ambitions and missed connections – and yet it’s also about kindness and about the “truth above truth” (that is there if you look for it).
As to Astley, I have been promising for a while to write my next Favourite writers post on her – and I will do it soon! Since reading Chloe Hooper’s The tall man earlier this year, I have been wanting to re-read The multiple effects of rainshadow as it’s been a lo-o-o-ng time since my first reading. Both, as you probably know, deal with violence and racial tensions on Palm Island – Astley through fiction, Hooper through non-fiction. Hooper is interviewed briefly in The Book Show’s program. She says of Astley that:
I think that she was very much interested in the violence of the frontier and she wrote about it and was very brave, because she was one of the first writers of her generation to deal with this question.
And that was Astley. Fearless, forthright and prepared to be confronting. I will get to her soon…
As simple Arthur says to would-be intellectual Waldo in The solid mandala, “it doesn’t matter what you write about, provided you tell the truth about it”. White’s and Astley’s truths are often uncomfortable – but that didn’t stop them and we, I think, are the richer for it.