Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 5, 2011

Sensational Snippets: The Eye of the Storm (1973), by Patrick White

I know I’m reading too many books at once, but after the awful grunginess of my most recent read, I wanted to be sure that I was going to enjoy my next book.  I have been rationing the remaining Patrick White novels that I haven’t read, just one each year, but the film adaptation of The Eye of the Storm is about to be released and I want to read the book before I see the film.

So – while I’m reading While I Have Pedro during the Masterchef ad breaks, and Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow over breakfast, and I’m listening to Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room during the daily commute – last night I started The Eye of the Storm. 

This is the book that the Nobel Prize judges specifically named as the book which confirmed his status as a Nobel Laureate.

It’s the story of Elizabeth Hunter:  a malicious, vain and manipulative woman.  At 80 years of age she is still – despite her frailty – a bully, and she keeps her entire household of three nurses and a housekeeper captive to her demands.  She has two children who fly back from Europe to put her out of sight and mind in a nursing home – in order to relieve her of her money so that they can sort out their own messy lives. Her favourite nurse, at least for now, is Sister de Santis.

Here’s a sample:

The voice began to wheedle.   ‘Won’t you hold my hand a little, dear Mary – isn’t it? de Santis?’

Sister de Santis hesitated enough to appease the spirit of her training.  Then she drew up a little mahogany tabouret upholstered in a faded sage.  She settled her opulent breasts, a surprise in an otherwise austere figure, and took the skin and bone of Mrs Hunter’s hand.

Thus placed they were exquisitely united.  According to the light it was neither night nor day.  They inhabited a world of trust, to which their bodies and minds were no more than entrance gates.  Of course Sister de Santis could not answer  truthfully for her patient’s mind: so old and erratic, often feeble since the stroke; but there were moments such as this when they seemed to reach a peculiar pitch of empathy.  (The Eye of the Storm, Jonathan Cape, London (First Edition) 1973, p11)

Author: Patrick White
Title: The Eye of the Storm
Publisher: Vintage 1995
ISBN: 9780099324218
Update 15.9.11
Finished, and even better than I thought it would be.  See my review.


  1. You’ve just reminded me of my big disappointment this week … I had the opportunity to see a special screening of this on Wednesday night but because of my father’s being in hospital and a health scare resulting in my husband ending up in Emergency on Wednesday, I naturally didn’t get to it. My priorities are right (but I was torn!!). The three in my group who did go said the movie was great. I’d love to get my reading group to do the book next year.


    • It’s been a rugged week for you, Sue. The film will keep…


  2. Isn’t that Virginia Woolf’s mum on the second cover? I’d like the see the film — I’d like to see how White’s combination of grubbiness and archness makes it to the screen. The trailer looks a bit Merchant Ivory, but that’s just a trailer, and Merchant Ivory is the standard publicity pose for Fillums based on Classic Books, so we’ll see.


    • I don’t know about the second cover, I pinched that from the Book Depository site.
      But hmm, I am dubious about the film for the very reason you suggest. I’m not even going to look at the trailer until I’ve read the book, I’ve already got an image of Elizabeth Hunter in my mind and I don’t want casting to mess that up, not yet.


  3. I wonder if I’ll be brave enough to try a movie based on a Patrick White book? I just googled it and the cast look pretty good. I’m pretty sure it won’t be coming to small town Australia any time soon though. I’m still waiting for Midnight in Paris.


    • I wonder if it will screen in the multiplexes? Maybe just arthouse places?
      On the other hand, a film about horrible children after their horrible mother’s money might be quite popular?
      I’ll have to read fast if I’m going to be finished before it’s released!


  4. I’m thinking of reading it too. As if I need another book on the list.


    • How about if we blunder through it together? I’m only about 50 pages in….


  5. I’m up to page 130.


    • HI Jamal, I’m about there too. It’s not a book to read fast, is it?


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