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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Fringe of Leaves

Patrick White

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To purchase A Fringe of Leaves

Title: A Fringe of Leaves
Author: Patrick White
Genre: Novel
Written: 1976
Length: 405 pages
Availability: A Fringe of Leaves - US
A Fringe of Leaves - UK
Une ceinture de feuilles - France

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Our Assessment:

B : a rich, raw, and finally harrowing evocation of a life.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 2/1977 Evan Connell
New Statesman . 10/9/1976 Julian Barnes
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/1/1977 Robbie Macauley
The New Yorker . 23/5/1977 George Steiner
Newsweek . 24/6/1977 P.S.Prescott
TLS . 10/9/1976 Randolph Stow

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The complete review's Review:

       It is misleading to describe this as the story of a shipwreck. A ship is wrecked, but the disaster only occurs almost halfway through the book. The central character, Mrs. Ellen Roxburgh, has, however, perhaps been stranded earlier.
       White recounts almost her entire life. Raised in England, without much of a family, she chances into marriage with the sickly Austin Roxburgh whom she meets when he comes to reconvalesce at her parents humble country house. Austin, barely a man, is kind enough but not a fit mate. Misguided by his own romantic notions he lends her a crib of Virgil's Bucolics, an entirely inappropriate book for the barely educated Ellen. Married, the Roxburghs travel to Australia, visiting the black sheep of the family, Austin's brother Garnet. The dangerous character contrasts to sickly Austin, affecting Ellen in ways she is not entirely prepared for.
       Fleeing finally for England again the Roxburghs board the ill-fated Bristol Maid. The novel builds like a snowball to this point, and the payoff of the careful characterization starts here. With brilliant detachment White describes what happens as the ship founders and after. Austin thinks only to save his beloved Virgil (the Georgics this time), and husband and wife treat these greater powers as they do everything. Numerous deaths follow. The first two (or one and a half), the death of innocents, are quite shattering, and nearly impeccably done.
       Only two finally survive the shipwreck and its aftermaths. Ellen is one of them. Her harrowing experiences among the aboriginal population are again very well done, culminating in her escape and rescue. Clinging to civilization in her fringe of leaves Ellen endures. It is in the final chapter, when she has regained civilization, that White's art shines true. The very human Ellen has found her humanity. Each of the scenes, including her meeting with the only other survivor of the wreck, are perfectly handled, making for a profound and satisfying open-ended conclusion.

       It is a complex and deep book, and the beginning is somewhat slow and uncertain (perhaps because we are so focussed on the impending doom that we have been warned of). But White is a craftsman, and he carefully crafts this work, the pieces falling together, making for a greater whole. It is not a pleasant book, and some of the points are not ideally handled (White's focus on social class, though believable, is not as ably handled as in most of his other books), but we do recommend it.

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A Fringe of Leaves: Reviews: Patrick White: Other books by Patrick White: 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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