Reviewer: Tall, Short & Tiny
A friend’s boyfriend recommended The Tree of Man years ago, when he found out how much I love to read. He wrote the name of the novel in the little notebook I carried for such purposes, and a few years later, I decided to try his suggestion.
From the moment I began to read White’s prize-winning novel, I was hooked.
It is an evocative, beautifully written novel, with descriptive passages that transport the reader directly to the heart of rural Australia. However, the narrative never detracts from the quintessentially simple, rural nature of the story; it only serves to describe the setting and its inhabitants perfectly. White has taken an ordinary, plain situation, and made it interesting and beautiful.
The imagery is fantastic; I especially enjoyed the way White described the intensity of bush fires, and was turning pages as fast as the flames ripped through the landscape. I also thoroughly enjoyed White’s use of language, with immensely appealing lines such like,
“…she began to feel sad, or chocolatey.”
White has the ability to describe the most mundane, ordinary things in a deliciously ordinary way that evokes such strong images, such as,
“She sat in an old cane chair, which creaked beneath her. The chair had been unravelling for many years but it was comfortable.”
This novel is about human endurance, about relationships (including friendships) and how they change over time. There is a recurring theme that in time, and with age, love is transformed into habit; I interpreted the line above about the cane chair as a metaphor for the love-to-habit theme. As the central characters, Stan and Amy Parker, move through their lives, there are many moments where their love for each other is questioned, yet they still appear strong. White writes,
“Habit comforted them, like warm drinks and slippers, and even went disguised as love.”
and Amy is often lamenting not loving someone enough.
For the most part, this novel was a real page-turner. About three-quarters of the way in, I felt as though the chapters were just filling in time until something inevitable happened, and didn’t enjoy it as much as. However, only a few chapters later, I was hooked once more, and felt the novel was back on track.
When a central character dies (I will not say who!), there is very little drama or fanfare about it, which feels natural because the novel is very much about the everyday. Perhaps it is also because the death of someone is expected, given that the novel begins with marriage, and goes through the (natural) progressions of life; while it is a sad occasion, I don’t think the novel would have felt complete with this happening.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Tree of Man, and it came as no surprise that this was the winner of The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. I give it 4.5/5 stars.