Saturday, 15 January 2011

Patrick White won the Nobel Prize

for Literature in 1973 - the only Australian, so far, to have won the prize. I am not sure he deserved it.
My father read White because his books were set texts for his degree in English Literature. Even now he says they were the books he enjoyed the least.
I was once introduced to White by Judith Wright with the words, "This is Cat and be polite to her. She writes too."
I soon understood why. White was a very rude man, a boor and a bully. He was extremely arrogant. He was not liked by his fellow writers - or at least those of my acquaintance. Some had read some of his work but I never found anyone who enthused about it. There may be people out there who enthuse about White and can understand what is so great about his writing. I have never managed to get through one of his books. They bore me.
Yes, it is probably me. Peter Carey bores me. Tim Winton bores me. I think Colleen McCullough's work could do with drastic editing.
This is probably terribly arrogant of me. I wonder sometimes if I should not make myself sit down and read these Australian writers. They are, after all, supposed to be "good". They are the writers whose work tends to be known as "good writing". It makes me wonder whether I do not appreciate "good writing" - whatever that might be.
So, I am interested when UK writers tell me they know about Australian writers and like them. To date they have not mentioned White or Winton. One person has mentioned Carey and, like me, does not "get along" with him. Tom Kenneally has been mentioned and, although he irritates me, I recognise he can write. Sonya Hartnett and John Marsden have been mentioned. Garth Nix has been too.
Colin Thiele has not been mentioned, indeed he seems to be little known outside South Australia despite "Sun on the Stubble" and "Storm Boy". People know the titles rather than the name of the author. Other children's books like Robin Klein's "People Might Hear You" and Ivan Southall's "Josh" have never rated a mention and yet they are outstandingly good books in my view. Then there are the quieter, gentler reads, Hesba Brinsmead's "Pastures of the Blue Crane" and Eleanor Spence's "The Summer in Between" - both under-rated books about growing up.
The internet age may make more very recent fiction internationally available but I think we have irretrievably lost some past treasures. They matter because they are among the books that almost certainly influenced current Australian writing. I can be fairly certain that Hartnett, Nix and Marsden have read some of these. I just wonder if they have read Patrick White.

9 comments:

Ann Best said...

My first husband read Patrick White, but when I tried, he didn't keep my interest. This was several decades ago. I wonder how I would react now? Your talking about me has made me think I might pick up one of his books from the library to see what I think. Thanks!

Frances said...

Cat: I have read in literary reviews, that (some) among those whom you mentioned are "respected but not enjoyed".
I have come to understand that academic critics are looking for quite different qualities in a book that I am. Enjoyment doesn't seem to be on their radar. Nor does an engaging narrative, as far as I can see.

Talei said...

Sadly, I've not read any of these great names either. I know alot of Aussie friends who did though and they loved them so I think it balances out right? ;)

Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

White is supposed to one of the literary greats but I found him a bore. When I discovered I would have to study more of his work I switched my major to French. If Ann does read him now I will be interested to learn what she thinks of him.
Chris

catdownunder said...

Ann if you do try please do tell!
I think Frances may be right. Talei it does not matter in the least - as long as you have read a lot (which you have)!
You were better off with French Chris - just look at where it sent you!

Sheep Rustler said...

I have read much of Patrick White. He comes under the heading of 'not enjoyable, but interesting.' I adore Peter Carey but can see why he is not to everyone's taste. I loathe Tim Winton. I have read hardly anything of Elizabeth Jolley but wo0uld have liked to have met her. Not sure about Keneally, only read two of his and not overly fond of them. I have only read one of Sonya Hartnett (Surrender) and loved it though I guessed the 'twist' at some point. I grew up reading Ivan Southall, which was pretty amazing considering that my father despised most Australian writers. Loved Colin Thiele though only the well-known ones. And Hesba Brinsmead and Eleanor Spence. My own children read mostly non-Australian stuff, or Australian stuff that is not set in Australia, not sure why because they can raid my books at any time, and do.

John Marsden is a favorite with my daughter and myself, not just the War books but others.

Lost track of my argument but keep a constant lookout for Aussie authors. This is Shyness by Leanne Hall is a new one that Tamsin found and has read three times, I have read it once, we are both eagerly awaiting the sequel, she is young and Melbourne based and an extrememly good writer.
Sorry, too rambling, but could go on about this forever.

Ebony McKenna. said...

ooooh, I can appear all "QI" on you and say that DBC Pierre is also Australian (although lives all over the place these days). his book, Vernon God Little was the only Booker winner I've ever read - I loved it and laughed out loud.
The second book? He lost me. Playing a rape scene for laughs is a massive turn off.

It's all about personal taste. I love commercial fiction and read for pleasure. I also love literary fiction if it grabs me. Perfume was creepy but intriguing. The Slap hit the wall at page 50.

jeanfromcornwall said...

"The Summer in Between" rang a bell for me. Does the plot involve some kind of theatrical production? I believe I may have read it when it was newly published, and I was just heading into puberty. The feel of the book has certainly remained with me - it was good.

Michelle Downunder said...

I hope to share some good Australian books with my daughter.As she gets older we are looking for more books. The Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner was enjoyable and my daughter read through the rest of the series.
Dot and the Kangaroo was also a fun read. Snugglepot & Cuddlepie and Blinky Bill were also enjoyed by my children but I didn't like Magic Pudding or The Muddle headed Wombat. Children of the Dark People freaked them out- we didn't finish that one.
My Mum's first book was Meet The Lees by GE Logue, we dug that one out of a second hand bookshop and read that. It was sweet.
She is getting older and we are about to read The Summer In Between.
I have read some John Marsden and I am not a fan.

I am glad I am not alone in finding some "recommended classics" to be not worth reading. And some wonderful books never mentioned.

Smiles to you. I have enjoyed reading your blog. I'm about to read a little more.

Michelle Downunder