Review Blog

Jan 21 2013

Happy Valley by Patrick White

cover image

Text Publishing, 2012. ISBN 9781921922916.
(Age: Mature secondary - adult) Highly recommended. Appearing on best-books-of-the-year lists, the new publication of Patrick White's Happy Valley brings it back into print after a seventy year hiatus. White was apparently concerned about charges of racism and so limited its availability during his lifetime. It is a significant work, not just because it is White's first novel; and it could form a fascinating partnership with White's final, unfinished novel, The Hanging Garden (Random House) for senior English study. Both novels exude verdant symbolism as an atmospheric meter of emotion and incident. Both novels validate the feelings and insights of children and feature a friendship between a vulnerable boy and girl.
In Happy Valley, school-girl Margaret Quong is the enigmatic daughter of an Anglo-Chinese father and Australian mother. Set in the early 1930s, a tired, small-town racism exists, but hostility is also easily turned onto anyone who destabilises the currents of the ironically named Happy Valley. Newcomer, farm overseer, Clem Hagan, emits a dangerous, hard sexuality. White skilfully introduces him and then turns his focus onto a range of other town inhabitants. Even though the lives of the other characters are gripping, we know that Hagan's character is waiting on the edge, changing the dynamics and likely to precipitate a tragedy.
Two of the featured families, the Hallidays and the Moriartys, seem to be dissimilar; apart from teacher, Ernest Moriarty's asthma and Hilda Halliday's consumptive cough but their spouses' affairs with others make them incongruously alike. It is the children, Margaret and Rodney Halliday, who recognise truth first. The adults must later choose their own futures.
Patrick White's writing is laden with experimental devices. He judiciously (some may disagree) uses stream-of-consciousness, repetitions, unconventional word order in sentences and perfectly formed and injected images. The writing techniques alone deserve study and critique.
Joy Lawn

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