Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Aunt's Story by Patrick White

I discovered Patrick White in an article in The Times Literary Supplement of London. I had never heard of him, but the article made him sound interesting. After a bit of research, I learned he won the Nobel prize in 1973. The TLS article listed him as one of several forgotten, great writers. It was a little hard to get a copy of the book -- eventually a used book dealer in England shipped a copy for $1.99 plus $3.95 shipping. This slight amount of trouble was well worth it.
The novel is terrific! Aunt's Story is a novel in three parts. The first and third are from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, and the second is through the eyes of the title Aunt, Theodora Goodman.
At first the ubiquitous mentions of mirrors, struck me. As an amateur "student" of Jacques Lacan, the French Freud, I am always on the lookout for literary characters who use mirrors. According to Lacan, the mirror stage of development occurs when a child first sees itself in a mirror as a whole being. That is, the child discovers that the feet and hands it has been putting in its mouth are actually part of its body. Sometimes, later in life, an adult will look into a mirror and really see him or herself for who they are. The next time you are before a mirror -- not to comb your hair, or shave, or put on makeup -- stare at your face. Look at the lines, the hair, the freckles, the blemishes, the nose, every detail. Creepy! There were, by my rough calculation, one mirror or reflection reference every five pages. Obviously, Theodora was looking for something.
Then I began to notice other patterns: yellow, pale, thin, flat, bone, and plain. Something was going on, but it wasn't until part three that I began to realize all these things were related. I then understood how complicated this novel really was.
The middle section was told through the eyes of Theodora Goodman. I don't want to give too much more away, because this novel is more than worth the effort to find and read. Our book club discussed this last week, and seven people came up with seven different views -- all plausible! That makes The Aunt's Story a reader-response critic's dream!
One more thing, about halfway through, I realized that there were many, many parallels to Homer's The Odyssey. Theodora is on a heroic journey. Why? To what end? Sorry, I have already said too much.
Five stars, as I go off to Amazon to find his other 9 books.
--Chiron, 3/31/07

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