PATRICK WHITE: A Life by David Marr
Kirkus Star


Email this review


The sleeper biography of this and recent years, Australian journalist Mart's book bas more than amplitude and its subject's blessing (White actually got to read most of the book before his death in 1990) going for it: It is an unusually calm, unstraining, unjaded, and even curious work, fascinated with Patrick White but never fawning over or using him (he'd have been hard to use this way anyway) as an illustration of an artistic or psychological conclusion the biographer has come to. Like many of the best Nobel winners of recent decades, White--who wrote some of the most extraordinary prose of the century--is more known by name than read. But rather than academically reintroducing us to White's great achievement, novel by novel, Marr wisely sticks to using the books as clues to White's life. It's a procedure that can mislead yet here doesn't--for White himself was never false, played no games with his life and art, made no toying distinctions or feints. Wealthy, homosexual, asthmatic, brutally candid, White looked to follow or start no circle; he was traumatically educated in England, served in the African campaign in WW II, and then--with bis lover and companion of what would be 40-some years, the beautifully named Greek, Manoly Lascaris--he returned to a puritanical, philistine Australia to do his major work. His love/hate affair with Australia is the book's undertheme--but it merely contributes to what is most unmistakable about White as seen by Marr: the incomparably high fidelity of the man--artistic, personal, social. Generous yet monastic by temperament, White struggled with doubt and pride in a refreshingly premodern way--all of which Marr captures. And as the best literary biography ought to do, this one sends us hungrily back to the novels--to see what they encompassed but also, too, to relish how the complexity of the author's own character boosted their art. Superb.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1992
Page count: 736pp
Publisher: Knopf