Friday, September 22, 2006

Vivisector 2

I have scraps of paper everywhere, with brilliant insights scribbled on them. Of course I can't find any, now that I go to post. So here are some snippets of my thoughts during these last three chapters.

How was this book received? Does anyone know? I can't imagine 'nice' people approving. The novel has been uncomfortable so far - farting and fucking and constipation (what a great word is 'costive' - I'm sure I will find a use for it) and melodramatic society ladies leaving wealthy husbands and slitting their wrists over our anti-hero; but now it has moved into the frankly scandalous. Is White pulling our legs?

Why do all these women find Hurtle so attractive? Hero annoyed me intensely, with her extravagant melodramas - suicide attempts, and grand leavings for doomed romances, and of course the easily divested love for the disposable kittens and Aboriginal foster child. Does it reflect how Patrick White saw women - melodramatic, parasitic, painted and superficial? While the men are verbally constipated and bestial. I know [some] authors get very annoyed at implications that their novels are in any way reflective of their real selves. But how could they not be?

After spending the last chapter passing Nance's johns coming down the stairs with nary a twinge, Hurtle gets jealous of Olivia hanging other artists' paintings. A polyamorous patron cuts much more at his sense of specialness than competition from any men his lover has sex with.

My skin crawls at his attraction for the schoolgirl but it's interesting to experience it from inside his skin, a demon he wrestles with - finally the untouchable Hurtle is overwhelmed with feeling. I haven't thought about it much myself, but accepted the 'common wisdom' (which often turns out to be anything but) that people attracted to children are lonely losers unable to have relationships with people their own age, so seek out the admiration of the young. Does this fit with Hurtle? Kathy is presented as quite predatory and assertive, and their passion a meeting of artistic temperaments. Presumably Hurtle has had a few showers (although not enough cold ones) by now - no matter how famous he is, I find it a stretch to believe a fifteen year old would pop into bed with a frankly disgusting old man. Paedophiles justify relationships with youngsters by emphasising the child's choice, which White seems to do here. I agree children are sexual beings and the liaison doesn't seem to have destroyed Kathy, unlike the women of Hurtle's past. But what was White trying to do, giving H. an affair with a child? Kick over another taboo? Provoke? Or just say, 'it's not about age, it's about a meeting of the minds' (back to paedophile argument again)?

Kathy is the first woman on whom he he has a positive impact, releasing her creativitiy. His track record previously had been dismal - killing off Nance & Hero, disappointing Boo and Maman, and as for prickly Rhoda...some kind of uncomfortable symbiosis, each reinforcing the others' eccentricities. Maybe it was too much even for White to have him destroy a child as he had his previous lovers? Or maybe Hurtle can only adore the perfection of the potential of a child, like a blank canvas, rather than the disappointment of a completed adult.

White doesn't really create likeable characters - this is the only White I've read, and I'm not finished it yet - I wonder whether this is why people find him 'difficult' to read? The characters are difficult people.

Funny - Hurtle doesn't do that - hurtle I mean- for most of the book he has been cool, careful. While Hero turned out to be anything but, weak and desperate for absolution. Boo was the very paragon of upper class decorum. Is he using names to set up an expectation in the reader, create a tension between their label and their character?

More spot-on observations of class:

'She came in, and he thought he might not have been able to stop her if he had wanted to: entry was her birthright.' p286

Mrs Trotter could be giving a lecture to magazine editors when she says, 'Poor people only hate the rich politically - in the abstract as it were... They adore to see them in their clothes and cars.' p319

'[The maid] was so relieved to find herself loaded again with reliable chains' p371


minnie biggs said...


Mikhela said...

yes it does, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I haven't got as far as you, but I like the idea that what people have found difficult about White's books isn't the style but the prickly characters.

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