This is a novel of ponderous observations made out of some pretty simple lives.  I suppose that ought to be its appeal; all good fiction is based on truth, and the truth is hard to define in most people’s tour of duty on the planet.  What we are left with are questions of relevancy, meaning, and purpose, and I am not so sure any of them are answered between the covers of this book.

The Tree of Man reads like a fable, and almost every paragraph ends with a metaphorical observation on the human condition.  Stan Parker is a simple man who finds connections with his fellow human to be more difficult than his connection with the land he lives on.  He marries a bright, lively girl named Amy, and the couple raise a boy and a girl on their farm in back bush New South Wales.  A variety of neighbors, both weird and endearing, weave through their lives as they struggle through floods, bush fires, and their own doubts and shortcomings.  These interactions are what really moves the story along because the character development becomes much more important than any pretense of a plot.  The Parker children grow to become flawed adults, each in their own way, but it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s “fault.”  Watching them develop those flaws is part of the appeal of the book, and recognizing that their development is more than simply the cause and effect of incidents and vignettes is necessary to fully appreciate the narrative.

I once tried to read another novel that tackled such heady issues as the meaning of life and could not finish it because of its brutal honesty.  The Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Ferrell sets the action in a Chicago Irish slum, but the questions that are raised are the same as those posed on the paddocks of Parker’s farm.  Why are we here?  What does it all mean?  There is no clear answer in either book, but both succeed in a very visceral way; they make you think hard enough that it almost hurts.

Views: 3523

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Kim You might enjoy reading this brief biography Patrick White - Existential Explorer to understand why this book is seen by some as a turning point in the history of Australian Literature
I have never really used the term “existentialism” in any of my own writings because I think I slept through that lecture in college and missed out on a clear definition. However, after reading the review of Patrick White and his work, I think I am beginning to have an inkling of what it means. The Tree of Man is an important novel, even if it leaves one with a rather empty feeling after finishing it. Perhaps that is truly what it is all about; that empty feeling. Upon reflection, I can say I would not recommend this book for anyone seeking an “escape.”



Like Mosman Library Service on Facebook!

Twitter Updates

© 2024   Created by Mosman Library.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service