After my first reading of The Tree of Man, by Patrick White, about twenty years ago, I put it back on my bookshelves uncertain whether or not I had enjoyed it. It was so rough-textured and densely written that it demanded more effort on my part than I was happy to give. But I never forgot the novel, and later when I travelled in Australia I found myself thinking of Patrick White, the great poet of the Australian landscape.
A few months ago I read The Tree of Man again and at last came to terms with it. Certain passages required re-reading, some several times. The Tree of Man is a long book which deals with the daily lives of truly ordinary people who establish a smallholding in the bush which, by the end, the suburbs of a city have almost reached – not the stuff of great literature one would think. Yet White looks at it all through eyes that see so much more than most of us can. He holds up a lens so that his readers can share his vision, but often his meanings are so complex, or deceptively simple, that we must stretch ourselves mentally to share them.