Once again I decided to join in the Patrick White Readers’ Group – this time for ‘The Solid Mandala‘. The other book this group has done was ‘The Vivisector’ which I waded through and you can read my thoughts here, here and here.
I really liked the first chapter of ‘The Solid Mandala’ which is refreshingly short, unlike most of the remaining chapters in this book and most of the chapters in ‘The Vivisector’. I liked the way the protagonists, Arthur and Waldo Brown are introduced by Mrs Dun and Mrs Poulter as they are on the bus. White is very good a setting a scene and describing his characters so that we get to know the twins a bit before they make an appearance.
Then I started on Chapter 2 about Waldo and got bogged down after a little while. As I kept reading I kept wondering what the heck was happening. There didn’t seem to be any point at all other than learning about what Waldo, his brother and their parents were like. We learn that Waldo is the smaller one and Arthur is the stronger, healthier twin but he likes to help his mum knead the dough. They don’t let their father know this though, as it’s not a manly thing to do.
Then I got up to page 86 in my book and I haven’t continued. Ooh, I have loads of excuses which I won’t go into here but if you read the last week or two’s worth of entries in my blog you’ll get the idea. I feel a bit like I’ve failed, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.
I did, however, watch the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club last night to see what they said about it. It was interesting that the two older panellists, Jacki Weaver and Jason Stegar both liked the book. Jacki Weaver said it was her favourite one and she absolutely loves Patrick White. She said that you needed commitment and compassion to read it while Jason admitted it wasn’t an easy read, but he enjoyed it and he saw Patrick White in Waldo.
I don’t know that much about Patrick White but I think his way with words is reflected in Waldo’s character on p 36 of my book (the 1966 edition published by Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd), ‘Because words were not in Arthur’s line. It was Waldo who collected them, like stamps or coins. He made lists of them. He rolled them in his mouth like polished stones.’
The two younger guests, Craig Reucassel and Marieke Hardy both disliked the book a lot. Craig said that he found it difficult. It was dense and overwhelming and nothing happened. He said that no-one would understand the crucial moments but this is where Jacki liked it as she had to use her imagination for these bits. Marieke said reading it was like wading through a vat of cold porridge.
I felt somewhat comforted after watching this that I am not alone in finding this book difficult. I don’t know if I’ll ever borrow it from the library again and try to read it, but when the Patrick White Readers’ Group comes up with the next book I’ll give it a go.