Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Eye of the Storm: My take on the book

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or read a selection of the novel here
My fellow blogger Louise  at A Strong Belief in Wicker gave me an out when I wrote I was reading nobel laureate Patrick White's 1973 book "The Eye of the Storm" prior to seeing the movie.

"Oh dear, Patrick White is Hard. I've only read one- Fringe of Leaves. It took me 3 months to get through it. No one will think the less of you as a reader, or a person, if you have to give up!"

Would that I had listened! Louise is planning on skipping the book but seeing the film. I know this is a bit sacreligious coming from me but I think she has the right idea.The book is, as Louise says, hard. At least it was for me. White's insistence on getting inside his characters' heads and giving us a multi-page stream of consciousness of their thoughts is quite literally, hard to read. Without punctuation, the  letters, the words, the phrases, the sentences blur together in a dreamlike mess. Even when he's not doing stream of consciousness I had to read and re-read and still would occasionally find myself mystified. When I could see the characters, which quite often seemed shrouded in the mist of White's language, I found a mostly unlikeable but all too human bunch:  a controlling and dying mother, her two very grown children come reluctantly home looking to seal their inheritance, her solicitor, her nurses and cook, an unloved now-dead husband.

The story itself is not that unique but its universality - at least in terms of the death of a parent - is what makes it compelling: a son (Basil, an actor in London) and a daughter (Dorothy, a "French princess" by marriage) raised by a mother so selfish and withholding that her children deliberately live as far away from her as possible. Even when they return to Australia, neither one can bring themselves to stay in the house with her. They are just as greedy, and self-involved as their mother has been. There are no heroes in the book, most of the characters are small and petty and self-loathing and frightened; they plod around rather than soar. I just wish White spent less time in their heads and more time simply telling the story. En anglais, s'il vous plait. Perhaps I would have finished the book feeling transported, moved, thoughtful. Instead I was merely grateful I was done. Okay, I said to myself, get rid of all that interior crap and there's probably a good movie here. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing it; Mark has promised to go with me Wednesday.  Hopefully he won't discover it's not an action flick before then.

I'm a tad floored that Australian screenwriter Judy Morris was given the task of adapting this weighty  tome. Not because she's an Aussie of course but because the longtime multi-talented actress (since 1949!) doesn't have a lot of writing credits - the ones she has seem to be mostly collaborative efforts on animated features ie, Happy Feet and Babe:Pig in the City. In 2010 she is also credited as being one of four writers on a project called Before the Rain, perhaps that's how she clinched the deal? If you have any knowledge about Before the Rain I'd love you to share it.
The Eye of the Storm is directed by Fred Schepisi who directed the stunning Empire Falls based on Richard Russo's equally stunning book. In that respect at least, we know we are in good hands.


3 comments:

  1. You certainly don't entice me to read the book. I'm not sure I understand how authors like this are so successful. Is it just the thrill of saying you finished? I hope the movie is more enjoyable and that you don't feel like, "Made it through that one."

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    1. Ha! I don't imagine I could entice anyone to read this one. I guess the book is meant for finer minds than mine which is fine. I probably would have put it down if it hadn't been made into a movie but it was so I stubbornly stuck with it.

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  2. You finished it so quickly! That certainly is a triumph. I don't remember Fringe of Leaves being quite so much stream of consciousness, but absolutely nothing did happen for most of the book. I do know some people who like Patrick White! My old boss loved him, had read all of them at 17! Which is just way too erudite for me.... I haven't managed to see the movie yet, I'll be interested in your thoughts. Patrick White is the only Aussie winner of the Nobel Prize (which to be honest is probably the only reason he is still being read).

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