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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Twyborn Affair

Patrick White

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To purchase The Twyborn Affair

Title: The Twyborn Affair
Author: Patrick White
Genre: Novel
Written: 1979
Length: 432 pages
Availability: The Twyborn Affair - US
The Twyborn Affair - UK
The Twyborn Affair - Canada
Die Twyborn-Affäre - Deutschland
  • Originally short-listed for the Booker Prize, White withdrew it (in order to give younger writers a chance, he claimed)
  • The book was a great success in Australia and England, less so in the US.

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Our Assessment:

A- : marvelous writing, raw and liberated, though aspects of the story may be off-putting to some.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly A 5/1980 .
Christian Science Monitor . 7/5/1980 Bruce Allen
London Rev. of Books . 8/11/1979 Robert Taubman
The New Republic . 3/5/1980 Ann Hulbert
The New Yorker . 28/4/1980 .
The NY Rev. of Books . 17/4/1980 Rosemary Dinnage
The NY Times Book Rev. B 27/4/1980 Benjamin DeMott
Newsweek . 7/4/1980 Walter Clemons
The Observer . 30/9/1979 Angus Wilson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch A 30/3/1980 Nancy Shapiro
Times Literary Supp. B 30/11/1980 William Walsh

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Twyborn Affair is one of [Patrick White's] best" - The Atlantic Monthly

  • "The book cannot be summarized without being made to sound absurd. To be sure, there's enough wrong with it to send many readers muttering back to Barbara Cartland. (...) And yet the novel throbs with brilliantly rendered landscapes and painfully felt life. (...) As it stands, I'd guess that the book's frequent force will override objections to its manifest slackness and silliness" - Bruce Allen, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Despite many pleasures, though, The Twyborn Affair doesn't strike me, finally, as a wholly satisfying novel." - Benjamin DeMott, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The story is strange, haunting, full of surprises. It's a beautifully written book with fascinating characters." - Nancy Shapiro, St.Louis Post-Dispatch

  • "Not the best, nor the worst." - William Walsh,TLS

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In this late work White squarely confronts the questions of identity -- sexual and otherwise -- that long preoccupied him. He does so in unusual fashion: in each of the three parts of the novel the main character appears in a different guise. In the first, in pre-WWI France, he is Eudoxia, 'wife' of a Greek. In the last, leading up to the beginning of WWII, he is Eadith Trist, bordello madam in London. Only in the middle section does he appear vaguely as himself, as Eddie Twyborn. Eddie playing dress-up in women's clothes never wholly convinces us (our doubt being that he manages to be so entirely convincing), but White makes up for this with his style, flourished here more freely and in a more relaxed manner than in many of his other works.

       The three episodes are well presented, only the last, at least in its beginning, too ambitious. We miss the transitions -- as well as some of Eddie's background and childhood -- though some of this is subtly and effectively introduced, especially his WWI experiences. Once the bizarre idea of the novel is accepted it is generally a great pleasure to read, the broader brushstrokes and stylistically sometimes more daring writing making it a quick and interesting read. There are minor flaws, but as a whole it is still a marvel.

       The curious set-up may be hard to accept immediately (though White adeptly pulls the reader in), and some of the interactions are perhaps too brutal in their forthrightness, but there's no more here than in many a modern novel. It is an honest book, without any clear conclusions, and it is excellently written. Recommended to all but the squeamish.

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The Twyborn Affair: Reviews: 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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