The posthumous publication of an unfinished coming-of-age novel by the Nobel Prize-winning Australian author (1912-1990).
According to his biographer, what we have is about the first third of a novel which White began late in his career and was forced to set aside. Two kids arrive in Australia after the outbreak of World War II. They are “reffoes” (refugees). Gilbert Horsfall has been sent from London to escape the Blitz; his mother’s dead, his father’s an invisible colonel in India. Eirene Sklavos is accompanied by her mother, Gerry, fleeing German-occupied Greece; Gerry, an Aussie, married a Greek communist who died in prison. She’ll be going back to do nursing in Egypt and connect with her new man. Gil and Eirene are parked with Mrs. Bulpit, a widow in suburban Sydney. White alternates their viewpoints; the writing is impressionist, elliptical. The children mark out their territory. Eirene, acutely conscious of her olive complexion, sees herself as a “black reffo Greek” and has the greater psychological burden. On the cusp of puberty, they share a bed one night but don’t cuddle. The grown-ups, Ma Bulpit and Eirene’s aunt Ally, are slovenly and repellent. The kids create a refuge in the wild, untended garden, building a treehouse together, though curiously, White pays their time in it little mind, leaving a hole at the center. The drama, when it comes, does not develop from their brittle friendship.
Even in context, a fragmented work, primarily of interest to White completists.