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Patrick White: The Solid Mandala

The opening part of this novel give us Mrs. Poulter and Mrs. Dun on a bus, talking. Mrs. Poulter mentions two of her neighbours – the elderly twin brothers, Arthur and Waldo Brown – and they talk about them, particularly after seeing them from the bus – stumping, trudging. The second part, called Waldo, tells the story of the brothers. They came from England with their parents. Waldo has always resented his backward brother but, for some reason, feels inexorably bound to him, sharing everything, even sleeping in the same bed. His girlfriend, even his dog seems more attracted to Arthur than to Waldo and Waldo resents this. Waldo is also a reader and not just a reader of anything but Finnegan’s Wake and Proust. So, when he finds Arthur in the public library reading The Brothers Karamazov he is furious and throws Arthur out instead of explaining the role of the Grand Inquisitor, as Arthur asks. Waldo is so upset that he plans to kill his brother.

The next part of the book is, not surprisingly, called Arthur. It tells much the same story but from Arthur’s perspective. Arthur may not have the brains of his brother, but he is more spiritually aware, more easy-going and is much better with people. But the two are, of course, the two sides of the same coin and, in the final section, it is Waldo who dies, his body chewed up by the dogs. We have to accept the two irreconcilable halves as Holstius tells us in The Aunt’s Story for one cannot live without the other.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Eyre & Spottiswoode