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The Twyborn affair (1979)

af Patrick White

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3841065,393 (3.94)1 / 46
Eddie Twyborn is bisexual and beautiful, the son of a Judge and a drunken mother. With his androgynous hero - Eudoxia/Eddie/Eadith Twyborn - and through his search for identity, for self-affirmation and love in its many forms, Patrick White takes us into the ambiguous landscapes, sexual, psychological and spiritual, of the human condition.… (mere)
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Viser 1-5 af 10 (næste | vis alle)
A soft 5-stars (the first section, for all its deliberate mystery, was at times maddeningly opaque). But I look forward to re-reading this gem in the near future. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 24, 2023 |
White is dense. Here you a book about a woman, who turns out to 'be' a man, who prefers to live as a woman, who decides to live as a man, who (plot spoiler) dies. By the time you've read the back cover, then, you'll know we're already in Tiresias and Orlando territory. The book is a triptych. In the two wings, Ms. Twyborn is in Europe; in the central panel, he's in Australia--so, an inverted Lost Illusions, in which the provincial (i.e., Australian) is in the centre (Europe) at the beginning and end of the book, and returns to the provinces in the middle portion. The individual sections also call to mind endless books: the first third could be a Henry James novel, only with Australian expats instead of American (and, you know, explicit gender trouble). The middle third is much the other big White novel I've read (Vivisector) in its attention to the Australian landscape and the business with Australian identity. The final third takes place in a brothel, and reminds me, at least, of Baron de Charlus towards the end of Proust.

I have no idea if White intended all of these echoes, but I enjoyed them.

Also dense: White's prose. Generally, I'm bored silly by physical descriptions, but White's a so musical and intricate that I compulsively re-read them. Consider this sentence, almost devoid of content, but still breathtaking:

"Where the villa was situated there opened a view of the sea, its hyacinth deepending to purple at that hour of evening, islands of amethyst nestling in tender feathers of foam, clouds too detached in every sense to suggest something physical, only a slash of brash sunset to warn of the menace invariably concealed in landscape and time."

or

"Note yet recovered from the storm of the night before, the whole landscape had remained withdrawn in its sombre self, the sea still streaked with oily black, except when throwing itself against the promontory of rock or the strip of gritty plage, it flashed a frill of underskirt which would have shown up white if it had not been dirtied, toning with grey concrete, black asphalt, the straggle of palms, saw-toothed blades parrying the last of the wind, a line of tamarisks, their cobweb-and-dustladen branches a dead green at the best of times, now harried to a kind of life, overall the coastal spine covered with a scurf of dead grass and network of black vines."

Crikey. As a whole, this book somehow combines the syntax of late James with the physicality (and repetitions) of D. H. Lawrence--while remaining pleasurable.

And the ideas are dense too. Twyborn's gender bending could have been gimmicky, but the Tiresias echoes help to focus on the most important question here: can one embody a myth? And is human sexuality an adequate one? In the first world war, Twyborn comes across a Captain who tells him about fucking a French woman. As he went at it, he had a vision, "like the wings of a giant cocky, soft, and at time explosive." Plainly, he sees the woman as an angel, but closes his story, "Don't know why I'm tellun yer this. About giant cockies. You'll think I"m a nut case... An' don't think I'm religious!... Because I believe in nuthun... NUTHUN!" This anecdote is followed by a passage about Mme. Twyborn's brothel, which is consistently described as a convent--here, "the brisk sound of [the assistant's] brown habit, the rustle of her bunch of keys, if not her rosary, could be heard in the corridors... and as they issued out of the individual cells under her charitable control."

Throughout the novel, the characters appeal to something that can work as their personal myth, but rarely ascend/descend to organized religion. Curiously the only survivor of the second world war is M/me. Twyborn's mother, who spends all of her time in church or reading a prayerbook. She doesn't know her son has died, but she sits, enjoying the birdsong as a bulbul "cocked his head at her, shook his little velvet jester's cap, and raised his beak towards the sun."

So, in sum: great prose, great thoughts, no silly existentialism. One of the best novels I've read this year, but certainly not for everyone. ( )
1 stem stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
My second favorite of White's books (first is the extraoridinary _Riders in the Chariot_), this is a wonderful story about identity and is an attack on social convention. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This book is worth reading simply because the central character is a person worth knowing. Eddie Twyborn was assigned “male” at birth but lived much of life as a woman. To the extent we come to know Eddie/Eudoxia/Eadith, we come to understand the complicated relationship between psyche and body in this individual who is at times care-free, careful, diffident, sensitive and solitary. While the book never focuses solely on the conflict of E’s internal feelings and external expression of gender, it is central to the story. It is a conflict of which only E (and eventually the reader) is aware. It is sometimes the driving force in decisions E makes and sometimes a secondary concern, but the incongruent gender expression is never entirely absent.

I appreciated that White never presented E as an object of contempt or pity. We see a person who is stuck in a life of compromise. E’s story contains no moments of wallowing in angst but there is also never a moment of unadulterated joy. The times of deepest contentment seem to be when the character is alone, working or recreating in the Australian outback. While not lacking for friends, the reader comes to see that however E chooses to live, as either male or female, s/he is never truly known to others. By the end of the book, I was yearning for E to find an intimate, to encounter that person who can be entrusted with her full sense of herself, with her past and her hopes for the future.

Instead of the writing transporting me into the story and the time and place of the telling, I felt instead that it was a barrier. The words seemed too laboriously chosen, too thoughtful. I could feel the author straining for the sentence, for the scene. Patrick White wanted to carry the reader away as much as I wanted to be transported. But I was always conscious of the author’s efforts to do so and in the end felt the burden and strain of the writing. I was intrigued by the construct of the book, however. The first part was told from a variety of points of view, most from what turned out to be minor characters, but this approach gave the reader an excellent idea of who E was to others. The second part of the book was entirely from E’s point of view, no shifts in the narrative. The third part of the book was still from E’s point of view, but in a more detached way. We weren’t close in like we were in the second part. We also didn’t see E from any external point of view and this, I think, contributed to the understanding of E’s isolation. Really rather a brilliant approach by Patrick White, but the strained writing made enough of an impression that I ended up with only a middling reading experience.
( )
1 stem California_Tim | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Eddie Twyborn is bisexual and beautiful, the son of a Judge and a drunken mother. With his androgynous hero - Eudoxia/Eddie/Eadith Twyborn - and through his search for identity, for self-affirmation and love in its many forms, Patrick White takes us into the ambiguous landscapes, sexual, psychological and spiritual, of the human condition.

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