Book review: The Tree of Man

Australian Literature Month

The Tree of Man


Patrick WHITE

480 pages

Published in 1955

The Tree of Man

This book counts for the following Reading Challenge:

New Authors 2013


rating system

I enjoy reading at least one novel during Australian Literature month. Some co-bloggers have encouraged me to read Patrick White, the only Australian author to have ever won the Nobel Prize of Literature, and The Tree of Man was available at my local library.

This is a thick book, but I enjoyed every line of it. It is not so easy to review.
It encompasses the whole life of Stan Parker. Apart from a few family and local dramas, there is not much happening, and that is precisely the point and the beauty of this novel, which focuses on the inner roughness and beauty of the characters, and of their harsh though beautiful surroundings, if you are into raw nature, cows, and trees. I am, and this book spoke to me.
It is also a lot about communication, or lack of, even at the heart of a family and even between husband and wife, or to go one step further, about the challenge of expression of oneself to oneself or to one’s God or deity.
It is full of desolate and poignant poetry, just as the Australian landscape around the Parkers’, with all its changes during a life time.

I highly recommend The Tree of Man, if you have not read anything yet by this great Australian author.


Stan Parker, with only a horse and a dog for company journeys to a remote patch of land he has inherited in the Australian hills. Once the land is cleared and a rudimentary house built, he brings his wife Amy to the wilderness. Together they face lives of joy and sorrow as they struggle against the environment. [Goodreads]

The Tree of Man is the fourth published novel by the Australian novelist and 1973 Nobel Prize-winner, Patrick White. It is a domestic drama chronicling the lives of the Parker family and their changing fortunes over many decades. It is steeped in Australian folklore and cultural myth, and is recognised as the author’s attempt to infuse the idiosyncratic way of life in the remote Australian bush with some sense of the cultural traditions and ideologies that the epic history of Western civilisation has bequeathed to Australian society in general.
“When we came to live [in Castle Hill, Sydney]”, White wrote, in an attempt to explain the novel, “I felt the life was, on the surface, so dreary, ugly, monotonous, there must be a poetry hidden in it to give it a purpose, and so I set out to discover that secret core, and The Tree of Man emerged.”.

The title comes from A. E. Housman‘s poetry cycle A Shropshire Lad, lines of which are quoted in the text. [Wikipedia]:


          On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
           His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
          The gale, it plies the saplings double,
           And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

          'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
           When Uricon the city stood:
          'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
           But then it threshed another wood.

          Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
           At yonder heaving hill would stare:
          The blood that warms an English yeoman,
           The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

          There, like the wind through woods in riot,
           Through him the gale of life blew high;
          The tree of man was never quiet:
           Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

          The gale, it plies the saplings double,
           It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
          To-day the Roman and his trouble
           Are ashes under Uricon.


This is the very beginning of the book.
I think it gives a good idea of the atmospheric beauty of the writing

Tree of Man opening


Patrick White

Patrick Victor Martindale White was an Australian author widely regarded as one of the major English-language novelists of the 20th century.
From 1935 until death, he published twelve novels, two short story collections, eight plays, and non-fiction. His fiction freely employs shifting narrative vantages and the stream of consciousness technique. In 1973, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature.”





23 thoughts on “Book review: The Tree of Man

  1. Pingback: New Authors Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  2. Lisa, I read Tree of Man last year for the Around the World challenge. Like you, I really enjoyed it even though it is a slower pace book. I couldn’t believe it this year when I read an article about the best books in Australian literature and readers were being asked if they thought Patrick White belonged in the mix!


    • wow, that shows where the reputation of Nobel Prizes have gone to…
      Hey, you might want to edit your gravatar details: it shows a weird and wrong format for your blog url, so I almost dumped your comment as spam. But I looked for you on google and found you. Thanks for your Map Maker, this is so cool, I’m going to use it for my 52 country challenges, and also for my US challenge


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  13. I never heard of this author. Thank you for the reconnendation. He sounds like one, that I would like. I have just started to read books by different Australian authors.


  14. Pingback: 2016: November wrap-up | Words And Peace

  15. What an interesting review. I have wanted to read something by Patrick White, and this will certainly be it! The inspiration of The Shropshire Lad, the natural setting and human story, and the excerpt all make the book sound fascinating and memorable.

    My favorite Australian authors are Juliet Marilier and Cecilia Dart-Thornton, who have each produced well-crafted fantasy series.


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