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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Happy Valley

 

Anyone would be poorer for not having read Patrick White's Voss, The Tree of Man, and Riders in the Chariot but very few know his first novel, Happy Valley, which he did not allow to be republished during his lifetime.

From its first page, describing a stillbirth in a snow-bound hamlet at the foot of the Snowy Mountains called Kambala, Happy Valley reveals that White was intent on getting up the noses of his fellow Australians - from the safe distance of London.

Happy Valley is not a particularly happy place: most of the townspeople are prey to frustration, disappointment and boredom.

For Oliver Halliday, the town's recently arrived doctor, Happy Valley is ''the embodiment of pain''. The people around him, Halliday thinks, are "still living in the Middle Ages".

"In Sydney", he remembers, "you went to parties. In Happy Valley you fornicated or drank."

Happy Valley is the missing piece in the extraordinary jigsaw of Patrick White's work.