Email this review


 A swarming and copious selection of letters by the Nobel Prizewinning novelist and playwright. ``My life is a series of blunders and recoveries and so it will be, I expect, till the end.'' Described by his biographer Marr (Patrick White: A Life, 1992) as ``a wise man who could be stubbornly wrong,'' White (191290) acquired the epistolary habit at age four or five, never to abandon it for long. His letters, by turns irascible and fond, cover a broad range of correspondents: from friends of his youth to literary people like Christina Stead and Shirley Hazzard to public figures like Ronald Reagan; White scathingly dismissed the president's Chinese diplomacy, savaged the American taste for ``celluloid, plastic, and decadence,'' and urged Reagan to ``[drop] out from time to time to contemplate problems which seem insoluble. Probably they will remain so.'' White wanted his friends to destroy the letters they received, but it's fortunate that not all complied with his wishes, for the fullness of this inadvertent self-portrait is nearly Shakespearean. The bluntness and sporadic cruelty of White mingles with a bold and outsize warmth that give the letters an epic feel without the usual affectations of the epic. His maverick, embattled nature guided him, and the letters tingle with it as they chronicle his early wanderings, wartime service in the Middle East and Africa, lifelong partnership with onetime Greek soldier Manoly Lascaris, and pattern of friendships won and forsworn. His love-hate relations with Australia were perhaps emblematic of his character, but so was a blitheness that led him to send thanks in 1940 to an American boyfriend: ``That little G-string you presented me with last year is a great help in a New York heat wave!'' Marr offers useful commentary; drawings of the craggy-faced novelist also lend a charm to these pages. A literary milestone.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-226-89503-3
Page count: 678pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996