Happy Valley – Patrick White

happy valley

Written when the author was just 27, this book about characters in small town Australia contains elements of stream of consciousness and experimental literature that made it famous at the time, and yet White would not allow it’s reprint in his life time.

An excellent first time novel, something about the story and characters feels deeply unsettling. Perhaps it’s the way that many of the characters want to leave and find a better life elsewhere, but appear to be stuck right where they are, as though cursed. Perhaps it’s the way the characters are all drawn in ways that make them seem like caricatures or stock types, none of whom are particularly nice, and a few of whom are having careless affairs with other people’s spouses. It might also be the way that the Chinese members of the community are drawn and described in hostile terms, although the author may have meant this to highlight the racist attitudes held by the community towards them? Or he might not have.

It’s a sort of ensemble cast, with no lead protagonist. It follows the desperate thoughts and dreams of the members of the town, and the means they have of escaping the attendant feelings. Ultimately, this has tragic consequences, as the affairs of the little town come to a head at the annual race day, and a murder is committed.

In some ways I enjoyed reading it, as it was a bit different, and it was nice to read a book about Australia and the local psyche. Australians do have a longing to travel (I know I do!). I also rather liked the unsettling feeling of how awful all the characters were and their inability to make choices and see themselves realistically. At the same time though, it was a tiny bit depressing somehow in it’s inexorable inevitability.

Definitely an interesting read.

Read It If: You like Australian literature, or if you like your novels a little more experimental.

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