The Hanging Garden: A Novel
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The Hanging Garden: A Novel

by Patrick White

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"Indisputably one of the century's greatest writers." —Annie Proulx

"The Hanging Garden is a novel for our time--a story about parentless children, mistreated by a world that, by its lights, intends no harm but nonetheless does enduring damage." —The New York Times Book Review (cover review, 05/26/13)



"Indisputably one of the century's greatest writers." —Annie Proulx

"The Hanging Garden is a novel for our time--a story about parentless children, mistreated by a world that, by its lights, intends no harm but nonetheless does enduring damage." —The New York Times Book Review (cover review, 05/26/13)

From the Nobel Prize–winning author of The Eye of the Storm comes a vivid, visceral tale of childhood friendship and sexual awakening from beyond the echoes of World War II.

Sydney, Australia, 1942. Two children, on the cusp of adolescence, have been spirited away from the war in Europe and given shelter in a house on Neutral Bay, taken in by the charity of an old widow who wants little to do with them. The boy, Gilbert, has escaped the Blitz. The girl, Eirene, lost her father in a Greek prison. Left to their own devices, the children forge a friendship of startling honesty, forming a bond of uncommon complexity that they sense will shape their destinies for years to come.

Patrick White's posthumously discovered novel, The Hanging Garden, which represents the first part of what was intended to be his final masterpiece, is a breathtaking and important literary event. Seamlessly shifting among points of view, and written in dazzling prose, Patrick White's mastery of style and highly inventive storytelling will transport you as the work of few writers can.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - John Sutherland
The Hanging Garden is…for lovers of White's work, hugely exciting. It depicts, with extraordinary delicacy, what goes on at that moment in life when the young mind is beginning to "make sense" of sensation…The Hanging Garden is a novel for our time—a story about parentless children, mistreated by a world that, by its lights, intends no harm but nonetheless does enduring damage.
Publishers Weekly
This final, unfinished novel by Nobel laureate White (The Eye of the Storm) cements the late author’s reputation as an incisive and compassionate voice of the 20th century. An elegiac portrait of two adolescents displaced during WWII, the novel guides the reader through multiple points of view, including Eirene Sklavos, brought to Australia after her father’s death in a Greek prison, and Gilbert Horsfall, who witnessed the death of his friend in the Blitz and attempts to integrate into an unwelcoming community. White’s prose is masterful, describing in surprising and ebullient turns of phrase everything from the book’s eponymous garden to “thick-lensed spectacles might be helping him not to see the faces he is addressing.” The novel was transcribed from White’s original handwritten manuscript and left unedited, retaining his notes (“Find out about these mangroves”) and the occasional false line. However, the roughness and the notes make a separation of author and text impossible, and reveal White to be as sympathetic and fascinating as Eirene and Gilbert. What White has left is a complete, complex, and beautiful portrait, an important addition to classic contemporary fiction. (May)
From the Publisher

The Hanging Garden is a novel for our time--a story about parentless children, mistreated by a world that, by its lights, intends no harm but nonetheless does enduring damage....David Marr, White's biographer, and others dedicated to White's memory, decided to give us The Hanging Garden. They were right to do so, and we should thank them for it.” —John Sutherland, The New York Times Book Review

“The creative intelligence behind the prose is as intense and the characterization as deft as anywhere in White...The world is a richer place now that we have The Hanging Garden.” —J.M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

“[The Hanging Garden is] a beautifully executed, deeply moving story about the blossoming young love in a dangerous and unpredictable world....A powerful novel about loss and love that fans of literary fiction will appreciate.” —Library Journal

“[The Hanging Garden is] a complete, complex, and beautiful portrait, an important addition to classic contemporary fiction.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“[The Hanging Garden] is, therefore, but a glimpse--a tantalizing, sensate, glimpse--of one of the twentieth century's top writers, in raw but still beautiful form.” —Booklist

“Patrick White re-creates the world by depicting the life we think we know in an entirely original and luminous way. Everything about The Hanging Garden, his final novel, is thrilling, consummate, and revelatory....A rare and wonderful gift to White devotees and a perfect introduction for new readers.” —Peter Cameron, author of Coral Glynn

“Atmospheric and unsettling. White's writing is infused with a powerful sense of yearning and loss. A book poignant with the uncertainty and bewilderment of childhood's passing.” —Tan Twan Eng, author of The Garden of Evening Mists

“One of the most vivid, erotically charged, emotionally wrenching works of fiction I've read this century.” —The Canberra Times (Australia)

“White is a mesmerizing narrator whose prose illuminates the most ordinary object and event in new and gripping ways....[He] was one of those writers who won the Nobel prize for literature because he really deserved it.” —Thomas Keneally, The Guardian

“[Patrick White] slashes through euphemism and distraction to reach a linguistic plane on which he can say what things actually are, in an idiom at once poetic and acute....Entering White's sanctum requires a purification ritual.” —The Millions

“[The Hanging Garden is] a complete, complex, and beautiful portrait, an important addition to classic contemporary fiction.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“White's novels [are] boldly ambitious, inventive, sensual, eloquent…shrewd and tender about its two protagonists.” —The Spectator (United Kingdom)

“The late, virtuosic performance of a master. Here is White conjuring in 200 pages one of the most vivid, erotically charged, emotionally wrenching works of fiction, I've read this century.” —The Age (Australia)

The Hanging Garden returns fiction to greatness. Reading it brings exhilaration, tinged with dismay at our diminished expectations of the literary novel....A gift.” —The Monthly (Australia)

“White's incessant questions--Is there anything beyond the physical world? May there be loving human unions beyond the carnal?--are posed here in ways as profound and subtle as anywhere else in his work. The Hanging Garden recalls us to the truth that great novels are those where the free play of the author's imagination reveals the fetters of gender or caste we wear in reality.” —The Australian

“Here, too, is the Sydney of White's childhood--lush, humid, sensual, a magic place in which children might hide themselves…It is an elegant, elegiac ending to a work that--however conceived in its full extent--brims with freshness and acuity. The Hanging Garden may be unfinished, but it does not feel incomplete.” —Peter Pierce, The Canberra Times

“Always engaging and intermittently brilliant.” —Australian Book Review

Library Journal
At the time of Nobel laureate White's death in 1990, executors of his estate found this unfinished novel among his papers. Although we will never know the ending White intended, this is a minor imperfection in what is otherwise a beautifully executed, deeply moving story about the blossoming of young love in a dangerous and unpredictable world. Spirited away from Greece to Australia in 1942 as a refugee from World War II, 12-year-old Eirene has already lost her father to the war and will soon lose her mother. White powerfully captures the pathos of Eirene's confusion and loneliness as she attempts to survive alone in a new country among strangers. Eirene is also awakening to love and sexuality, which White depicts with great tenderness and compassion. VERDICT A powerful novel about loss and love that fans of literary fiction will appreciate.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt

Mamma had been taken into the saloni. She was sitting talking to the Englishwoman.

‘You’ll find her a quiet, reasonable child.’

It made the reasonable child feel grave, important, while remaining unconvinced.

She was standing in a smaller room which opened off the important one where callers are received. It was a house of many rooms, whether their purpose was reasonable or not she hadn’t had time to find out, but sensed that she might approve of the house, dark and quiet, standing on the edge of this precipice.

She looked down through the closed window, through the leaves of dark yet glossy trees growing out of a wall of rock above the shining water of a small, private-seeming bay. More than anything the water consoled, its light that of the Gulf. She half-expected that if the curtain were to lift she would catch sight of the volcano on the island opposite. But the leaves were unmoved. She was reminded of the trees in the Royal Garden. As she ran past the benches with their officers and girls she heard her feet crunch on the gravel, running through the cool towards the muddy smell of ducks.

‘I’m sure she won’t give you any trouble,’ (Mamma was saying in the saloni.)

‘Oh dear no, I can see, Mrs—er—Sklavos’ carefully,

‘I can see she is quite the grown-up little lady.’ Suddenly Mamma burst into tears, through her crying the sound of furniture a rusty stirring and another sort of motion which must have been this Englishwoman’s, she had the figure of a dressmaker’s dummy.

‘It must be a comfort to know she will be on British soil.’

Mamma could have been mopping her tears. ‘But we are not British, Mrs Bulpit. Eirene is a Greek.’ How strange it was to hear Mamma’s voice, as though feeling its way into a foreign language. ‘My husband was a Greek—a Greek patriot. And I was Australian before I married. I do not think of myself as British.’

For a moment Mamma’s voice made Eirene feel foreign, when she had never thought of herself as being anything at all.

It became interesting. She supposed she ought to go into the room, and hang around, be with Mamma, even if she didn’t show herself. Her future guardian made her feel shy.

Mrs Bulpit was sucking her teeth. ‘. . . Can’t expect me not to feel English . . . English-born . . . husband too. Reg came to Australia on leave . . . a W/O in the Indian Army . . . took a fancy . . . decided to settle . . . sick of blacks . . .’

The child realised the woman was looking sideways at her, but vaguely, as though considering in the depths of her mind, whether this child was black too. So the child, who had never considered her complex- ion till now, sidled partially from view behind the padding of one of the rusty chairs. From above a scroll where greasy heads had rested her eyes could still take stock.

Mrs Bulpit was a pale woman except where the mouth had been painted over. Her forearms, hands, and face could have been moulded from natural marzipan. The lips shone with crimson grease rising to a little bow, they matched the nails in the marzipan hands, one of them lying in a black lap, the other dangling from a sofa arm the colour of age and dust. More than anything, more than the crimson trim- mings of her face and fingers, the colour of her hair made Mrs Bulpit noticeable, the little curls with which her head was arranged were of a rich red such as you see in a windowful of new furniture. The curls had a varnished look and though they might have been freshly done they gave no life to Mrs Bulpit’s flesh, they only emphasised its dead pallor.

Mamma blew her nose. ‘If you have any queries there is my cousin Mrs Lockhart.’

She had almost eaten off the stuff she had put on her lips for arrival. Nothing to compare with the paint Mrs Bulpit used, Mamma’s lips looked blenched and bitten.

‘You may wonder,’ she said in the foreign-sounding English she had begun using in this house, ‘why my cousin does not take Eirene. Too many of her own.

—Then too, Alison is one of those who does not care for additional responsibility.’

‘Nobody can say,’ Mrs Bulpit was saying, ‘that I haven’t a highly developed sense of responsibility.’

‘I also thought Eirene, an only child, might feel oppressed in a large family.’

‘That is correct. An only child. One myself. And she’ll have her playmate. Another little refugee.

He ought to be in presently. Why he isn’t? One I told you of . . . English boy . . .’

Perhaps remembering something, Mrs Bulpit withdrew the hand hanging from the sofa arm and plaited it with the one lying in her lap, as though preparing to protect herself against something Mamma might do or say. At the same time what sounded like a wheeze rustled out of the plastic bust of the dressmaker’s dummy.

‘Nobody is wholly responsible for what they are.’ Mamma’s voice sounded tired and dull.

Mrs Bulpit sat contemplating this remark. She was at a temporary loss.

While the child’s loss felt permanent she wondered whether to stay in the room or leave it for one of the many others, or the now forbidding precipice outside. Though relieved to have avoided the family of Lockhart cousins, she dreaded her meeting with this boy, probably lurking and listening, the other side of a none too solid wall as she was lurking and listen- ing inside her solitary body. Mamma’s eaten lips and adoption of a foreign sounding accent showed her she could expect nothing from that direction. If only Papa. But Papa was dead.

‘You’ll have to admit when you meet him he’s a handsome little lad, Mrs—Sklavos. Blue eyes. And the loveliest hair—pale gold . . .’

Papa’s eyes were almost black. They crackled with fire when he talked about what he saw as the future. Now the future was a shapeless dread in what was a stockstill present.

She ended up leaving the saloni. The darkening house extending behind it was preferable.

Copyright © 2012 by The Estate of Patrick White

Meet the Author

Patrick White was born in England in 1912 and raised in Australia. He became the most revered figure in modern Australian literature, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. He died in September 1990.

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