No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015/21: The Twyborn Affair -- Patrick White

She was too disgusted with herself, and human beings in general, ever to want to dabble in sex again, let alone aspire to that great ambivalence, love. [loc. 6383]

A novel in three parts, with three protagonists: or three parts played by one protagonist.

In the first third of the novel, set on the French Riviera some time before the First World War, we encounter the sophisticated and beautiful Eudoxia. Her lover of Angelos Vatatzes believes himself the heir of Byzantium: they live as man and wife, and fascinate a visiting Australian, the rather vulgar Joanie Golson (who turns out to be very well acquainted with 'Eudoxia's' mother, Eadie Twyborn).

Lieutenant E. Twyborn, DSO, washes up at a sheep station in Australia some time in the 1920s. Eddie spends some time with his parents in Sydney -- the Judge and Eadie, the former detached and the latter unmaternal -- but the focus is on country matters: he is seduced by the bored and voluptuous Marcia Lushington, and ... well, not exactly seduced by the virile Don Prowse.

The final third of The Twyborn Affair takes place in London during the Second World War. Eadith Trist is the madame of a London brothel, 'the tail end of a dream nobody ever succeeds in arresting', the focus of romantic (or erotic) overtures from more than one man. But then Eadith encounters the recently-widowed Mrs Twyborn, and everything changes.

The Twyborn Affair is often very funny, but it is also bleak and bitter. Whichever form Eudoxia / Eddie / Eadith -- let's just say 'E' -- takes, there are always secrets to be hidden, half a life to be concealed: and E cannot or will not believe in love. Angelos Vatatzes knows the truth (or some of it) about E, but it's unclear whether any of the other characters do. Indeed, I'm not sure what motivates E, apart from the desire to escape the stifling confines of convention, and to allow at least some part of E's personality to flourish.

I read this because it was mentioned in Elizabeth Knox's Black Oxen -- The Twyborn Affair was the third I read in a couple of months which presented a triptych of protagonists who turned out to be the same person. Though I admire this novel -- and acknowledge that White's aims are quite different to those of Knox or Jemisin -- I cannot say I enjoyed it, or engaged with it, as much as the other two.

No comments:

Post a Comment