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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cockatoos

Patrick White

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To purchase The Cockatoos

Title: The Cockatoos
Author: Patrick White
Genre: Stories
Written: 1974
Length: 284 pages
Availability: The Cockatoos - US
The Cockatoos - UK
  • A collection of six shorter novels and stories.
  • The story The Night the Prowler was made into a movie by Jim Sharman (the director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) in 1978.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : varied, dark, heavy tales

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Observer . 16/6/1974 Russell Davies

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The complete review's Review:

       Patrick White's collection of six shorter novels and stories is a fairly somber collection. White compresses the lives he describes into the pages of each tale (in contrast to his expansive novels), without losing substance. In his long novels he is able to offer more, but his talents also shine in the short form. These are, however, fairly dark tales.
       The eighty-page A Woman's Hand tells the story of the retired Fazackerley's, and the reappearance of a figure from their past, Clem Dowson. They had known one another years earlier in Egypt, under somewhat unusual circumstances. White fleshes out the complex relationships and figures marvelously in the vivid small slices of life he offers here. The complicated personalities are, as usual with White, all too human, and none completely sympathetic, but White captures their whole lives in this short novel. It lingers darkly in the mind.
       The Full Belly is set in wartime Greece, a brief picture of the hardship there, of lost worlds and souls. Five-Twenty again centers around an old Australian couple, their lives reduced now to watching, a highpoint of their day the passing, always at five-twenty, of one particular car in the traffic in front of their home. Even the comfort of routine is ultimately not enough to sustain them. When the husband dies the woman looks even more forward to the predictable. The brief flash of hope when routine is first upset (the driver of the unusual car stops at the house to use the telephone) is ultimately only another step towards decay and death.
       The title story centers around a couple that have stopped speaking to one another, communicating only by written notes they leave for each other. A stray cockatoo in the yard that returns when fed brings them closer together again, but as more cockatoos come a peaceful world is again shattered.
       The best known story in the collection, The Night the Prowler, is also the strongest. Felicity Bannister, a young woman living with her parents, is apparently raped in her bed. The circumstances of the attack are not entirely clear: she was made to drink brandy with her assailant who also smoked one of her father's cigars, and there seems to be some degree of complicity in Felicity's actions. White clears up most of the ambiguity around the actual attack, but it leaves as many questions as it answers.
       To everyone's surprise Felicity breaks her engagement to John Galbraith, a young man with a bright future, who is willing to have her regardless of the terrible thing that happened to her. Felicity is a complicated, tortured soul, and White describes her agonies superbly. It is not the attack itself that is traumatic, it merely serves to bring all her inner conflicts to a head. Her fearless confrontation of life (manifested also in the attack itself, as White describes it) make for a remarkable portrait.

       There is lots of death in these stories, and a fair amount of ugliness as well. Nevertheless, White is an excellent writer and he accomplishes a great deal in these pages. They are darkened lives, but vividly depicted. There is weight and depth and resonance to these stories.
       Not cheery reading, but certainly recommended.

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The Cockatoos: Reviews: The Night the Prowler:
  • IMDb page on the 1978 movie directed by Jim Sharman.
Patrick White: Other books by Patrick White under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Patrick White (1912-1990), Australian author. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. Schooled in England (at Cheltenham, and King's College, Cambridge). His first novel Happy Valley was published in 1939. Worked for R.A.F Intelligence during WWII, after which he returned to Australia.

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