‘Genius,’ as Arthur Rimbaud put it, ‘is childhood recovered at will.’ Rimbaud himself abandoned poetry at the age of twenty and thereafter refused to look back, but Patrick White exemplified the rule in writing The Hanging Garden. He was sixty-eight at the time, and had just completed his rancorous memoir Flaws in the Glass (1981); having disburdened himself of a lifetime’s gripes and grudges, he now re-imagined adolescence in a novel about two refugees – a boy from blitzed London, a girl from Greece – sent to Sydney early in World War II. He worked on it for a few months at the start of 1981, then set it aside, suspending the lives of the disparate but psychologically twinned characters at the end of the war.
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