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The Burnt Ones

af Patrick White

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1722156,500 (4)8
Eleven stories to which Patrick White brings his immense understanding of the urges which lie just beneath the facade of ordinary human relationships, especially those between men and women. A girl beset by her mother's influence, who marries her father's friend. . . A young man strangely moved into marriage with a girl like the mother who never understood him. . . A pretty market researcher who learns the ultimate details of love with a difference. . . The collector of bird-calls who unwittingly records the call of a very human nature.… (mere)
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Time for some Patrick White: I was looking for something else on my Collections shelf, and it dawned on me that it's been too long!

Alas, this battered Penguin paperback looks badly out of place among my carefully protected first editions, but I'm yet to find a copy of a first edition of White's first short story collection The Burnt Ones, so we must make do. And I must say, that I am quite taken with the cover design by Jack Larkin. You can tell that he's read the book, by his image of a laconic Aussie male and the discontented faces of the women.

Along with a dedication to the literary couple Nan and Geoffrey Dutton (which is significant, because it predates White's notable falling out with the Duttons), the title The Burnt Ones is explained at the beginning of the book. It comes from the Greek οι καυμενοι [oi kaymenoi], meaning 'the burnt ones'. It has connotations of more than just 'unfortunate' - it conveys the savagery and scar tissue of burning, whether literal or metaphorical.

'Dead Roses' at 66 pages is quite long, for a short story, allowing for greater character development. This story makes me wonder if White—who I've never thought of as having any feminist credentials—was beginning to realise that there were structural reasons why the women of his class were so painful. It was the 60s, after all, and maybe he was paying attention to the emerging feminist movement...

(I know, I know, I really must read David Marr's biography.)

The central character is Anthea Scudamore, who's a bit brought-up and not brought out. That makes her suitable as one of Val's patronising projects and she is therefore included as a house-guest at the Tulloch Christmas house-party on the Island. Val Tulloch knows what is the only obvious and only possible direction in life, and she is convinced that all others must accept the one way to happiness. For women of that era and that class, this means marriage and children, and so she has also invited Barry Flegg to the house-party. For Anthea.

Anthea, packing for the trip, is advised by her mother to put in her blue although she knows that summer on the Island is what people call informal now, but one should go prepared for all eventualities. She is collected from the airport by Ossie Ryan in one of those loosely-connected bombs which rattle between fixed points in the remoter parts of Australia. She dusts the seat, and Ossie marvels at this spotless girl from the city. Dust turns out to be the least of Anthea's discomfitures: from the veranda Mollie Aspinall mocks that 'Mummy hasn't let her come without a hat' and Val Tulloch can't resist: 'She's probably left the gloves on the plane.' She felt a beast, however. As well she might.

I love Patrick White but I'm not so keen on his short stories: to see the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/08/16/dead-roses-in-the-burnt-ones-by-patrick-whit... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 16, 2019 |
Eleven short stories of varying length by this Nobel prize winning Author, in which he demonstrates his skill to write in a variety of voices. There are stories of Anatolian Greeks living in Europe and Africa following their expulsion from Smyrna; who are now businessmen, intellectuals and some who have made good in America and returned to Greece. There are the voices from the various strata of Australian society; stories of poor country folk, stories of life in the Sydney suburbs, the upwardly mobile and finally tales of the rich and super rich, wherever White pitches his stories he makes his characters reach out to us as they wrestle with their lives, their difficulties, their relationships.

For these stories White delves back to his own experiences to provide us with a seemingly authentic background for his tales of fidelity, love and sacrifice. His lifetime partner was Manoloy Lascaris who spent his childhood in the Greek community in Alexandria and witnessed the diaspora from Smyrna, which features strongly in three of the stories. The two men thought of setting up home in Greece but eventually settled in White’s native Australia. White himself came from an agricultural background and struggled to make a living from the land. His family were relatively rich and his mother in particular was a socialite, he was therefore familiar with both rich and poor Australians. It is also probably true to say that White struggled with relationships and would have been able to identify with many of the central characters in these stories, whose individualism places them a little apart from the characters around them.

The stories are of varying lengths and the collection gets off to a great start with “Dead Roses”, which at 65 pages is the longest. Anthea is a typical White character, we meet her as a young woman, heavily built, who is invited to stay on a small partly uninhabited island by some rich friends. She meets one of her fellow guests on the seashore but his attempt to make love to her shocks her sensibilities and she flees from the island back home to her mother. She then marries a much older rich businessman who turns out to be a skinflint. Anthea remains a dutiful wife until his death, but finds herself unexpectedly plunged back to that moment on the island when she bumps into the man who made her feel “Like an Animal” This strong story with it’s themes of unfulfilled sexuality, sacrifice, fidelity and unlikely partnerships sets the scene for many of the tales that follow.

I particularly enjoyed the Greek stories; A Glass of Tea” has a subtle twist, “The Evening at Sissy Kamara’s” is portent with the exodus from Smyrna and “The woman who was not Allowed to Keep Cats” has much to say about Greeks returning to their native land and the love that keeps an unlikely couple together. There are also some fine Australian stories; “Miss Slattery and her Demon Lover” has a woman turning the tables on a macho man to delightful effect and “Being Kind to Titina” shows that duty and kindness can have its rewards. There is humour aplenty in “Willy-wagtails by Moonlight”is where White is at his bitchy best and the final story “Down at the Dump” has an earthiness that is reminiscent of Emile Zola.

This is a fine collection of short stories, which left me wanting more. The writing throughout is from the top drawer and if the experimental thought projection of “Clay” does not quite work then at only 21 pages we can forgive White for this. As usual White has fun with his names: The old skinflint of the first story is Mr Mortlock, The woman who tames the demon lover is Miss Slattery and the birds that inadvertently reveal an adultery are Willy-wagtails. I would recommend these stories for people who are hesitant about plunging into one of White’s longer novels as they provide a taste of his style of writing and the themes running through them are typical White themes. They may lack the power that he can generate in a longer piece of fiction, but lovers of his novels should enjoy these short stories. ( )
3 stem baswood | Dec 5, 2012 |
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Dead Roses

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Eleven stories to which Patrick White brings his immense understanding of the urges which lie just beneath the facade of ordinary human relationships, especially those between men and women. A girl beset by her mother's influence, who marries her father's friend. . . A young man strangely moved into marriage with a girl like the mother who never understood him. . . A pretty market researcher who learns the ultimate details of love with a difference. . . The collector of bird-calls who unwittingly records the call of a very human nature.

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