FLAWS IN THE GLASS: A Self-Portrait by Patrick White
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Visitors were always charmed till my sister, a pretty, dimpled child, told what I had been saying about them. I was this green, sickly boy, who saw and knew too much."" So says Nobel-winning novelist White right at the beginning of this dense, sharp, somewhat freeform memoir; and that distinctive tone (edgy and wicked yet slyly soothing) is the prime attraction as he sketches dozens of relatives and family retainers, then moves on to London in the Thirties, WW II service, and (quite briefly) his marriage-like existence over the postwar decades with Greek companion Manoly. Childhood was half Australian, half English--with stuffily well-to-do parents. (""I resented their capacity for boring me."") Banishment to boarding school was tragedy: ""When the gates of my expensive prison closed I lost confidence in my mother. . . ."" And ""till late into my life, houses, places, landscape meant more to me than people."" Nonetheless White vividly captures an amazing number of people here: Australian provincials of every shade, observed with affection and grudging admiration as well as devastating disdain. And the same tender/nasty shrewdness is turned on London acquaintances like Francis Bacon (""I like to remember his beautiful pansy-shaped face, sometimes with too much lipstick on it""), on himself, and on places--Alexandria, for instance, ""this eclectic whore of the Near East"" where White served in WW II Air Force Intelligence. Wartime brought the fledgling novelist time for reading: in Tobruk, ""as blood flowed. . . I saw Dickens as the pulse, the intact jugular vein of a life which must continue. . . ."" And it also brought Manoly--""the central mandala in my life's hitherto messy design."" (As readers of The Twyborn Affair know, White sees himself ""not so much a homosexual as a mind possessed by the spirit of man or woman according to actual situations or the characters I become in my writing."") So: back to Australia, the social oddness of the White/Manoly household, the fiction, travels in Greece (a long, spirited section), the Nobel (it ""may be all right for scientists""), and vicious glimpses of Joan Sutherland, Elizabeth II, and an Australian Governor-General. Likable? Mostly not. And too miscellaneous for shapely satisfaction. But White's twisty sensibility and dazzling prose turn each place and person here into a matter of surprising, tangible interest.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1981
Publisher: Viking