Monday, September 04, 2006
I've just finished reading chapter two of The Vivisector as part of the Patrick White Readers' Group. Only one chapter to go, and if I can get through that by the weekend, I'm on track. I'd forgotten how damned long his chapters are. Between the massive amount of work on my plate, my addiction to LibraryThing and my family, I'm amazed I've got this far.
But I do love this book, and rereading it in this context is fun. He's such a good writer. Take Chapter one. All the major themes of the book are there: art, genius, vivisection, cats, Hollingrakes, colour, Rhoda... and probably more, but the great thing about having a crap memory is that you get to read things over and over without spoiling it for yourself.
I love the bell-possum in chapter 2.* It's such a great metaphor for difference, for outsiders. Hurtle constantly feels like an outsider, and [SPOILER ALERT] as far as I can remember, it's only when he realises that he's not alone that he is ready to die.[END SPOILER]
Patrick White is someone I've been reading from a very early age; I think I've mentioned before that his short story, 'Dead Roses' (from The Burnt Ones) was one of the first adult things I ever read, jolting me out of my fairy tale/ myths and legends sort of world. There's a fast and constant vascillation between love and hate in his literary vision that keeps me pinned to his writing. On the one hand he tries to make us engage with his characters, and on the other he tries to make them as repugnant as possible. It's a push-me-pull-you action that holds the attention fast. When you read about PW's life, you can see that it isn't just a literary conceit; he lived with this tug-of-war every day. Having been brought up in a fairly 'nice' family, I found his edge of nastiness exotic, and utterly compelling.
I find Hurtle Duffield fascinating, if only for his extreme synaesthesia, which is a condition that merges senses -- people with synaesthesia can hear colour, or taste sound, or any other unusual combination of sensation. I think Hurtle feels colour, and I love PW's exploration of this.
So on I push, loving Hurtle's development as he learns to hone the sharp knife-edge of his observation, beginning to dissect the people around him. In chapter two we have two of the most important moments in his artistic vocabulary: seeing Rhoda naked, and seeing the model? diorama? of a dog being dissected.
Plus the bell-possum. He rocks.
*My edition is Penguin: 1973, and the bell-possum is on p. 109 of my book.