From the 1950s onwards, Patrick White set himself the task of supplying his homeland with the mythic version of itself that it had been calling for: one after another, his books took their place as monuments in Australia’s cultural landscape. White’s calling card was his ability to generate epic grandeur by symbolic means. The technique found fulfilment early on in his great novel Voss (1957), based on the wanderings of 19th-century Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. The book traces a literal and metaphysical journey into the heart of Australia’s interior, and remains remarkable for its intensely clear treatment of complex existential themes. Also an unusual love story, it is routinely credited with putting Australian literature on the map.
A necessary part of the experience of reading White is that of surrendering to the ‘built’, almost brick-like quality of his sentences. It is in the laboriousness of their construction that his novels accumulate their celebrated power and sense of space.
The particular interest of The Hanging Garden – published last