"The Eye of the Storm" is a 1973 novel by Australian author Patrick White, describing the last weeks of life of a wealthy Australian woman, and her two semi-estranged children who come to see her on her deathbed. It was released the same year that White was given the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this work was cited, among others, in the text for the award. White was the first, and, so far, only Australian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I have a little journal of what books I have read, listing start dates and end dates. I started this book on February 1st, and five days ago, was only 200 pages in. Then I read 300 pages in the last four days. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the book. Some of the characters and locations were unclear to me. Some became clear while reading. Others did not. The book is told in a variety of styles, from a straightforward narrative, to passages written as stream of consciousness. It was not always clear to me why, for example, a flashback sequence was included, and whether the events were directly significant, or were just symbolically related.
The plot, in short is this: Elizabeth Hunter, a blind and almost bedridden woman in her 80s, is dying. Her two children, Basil, a famous Shakespearean actor, and Dorothy, a French princess, come to visit her on her deathbed. She is also attended by two main nurses, Flora Manhood and Mary de Santis. These women are referred to with the title "Sister" but apparently are some type of lay nun. While her children visit her, her life, as well as the lives of her children, as well as her attending nurses, is told in a series of flashbacks. Both of her children, despite exterior success, have had poor relationships and are unhappy, which is attributed in some way to Freudian conflicts with their mother. Along with this, it also describes the more practical struggles of the working class nurses attending her. Like many works of literary fiction, the progress of the book doesn't hinge on events, as much as thoughts and feelings. And often, when events are portrayed (such as the book's many depiction of transgressive sexual encounters), they are portrayed in an underwhelming fashion. In fact, I had to reread several times to see if one of the book's passages about those Freudian issues was to be taken literally---and I am still not sure.
The most important thing for me about the book is how it bridged two different types of literature, in a way that would not be possible today. During the 1970s, there was something sometimes called "Epic Fiction", big books that told soap opera stories spanning generations. Writers like James Clavell and James Michener wrote thousand page epics that were widely popular. This book doesn't exactly match that, but it is close. Another closer comparison might be The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, which also describes the life of a wealthy family in the outback. Or even, for that matter, some aspects of the works of Judith Krantz, who wrote books describing the scandalous lives of the jet set. But, as mentioned, this book also cited as being Nobel Prize winning material, and included many experimental literary techniques, such as stream-of-consciousness. So this book reflected a time when a publisher like Avon could produce a mass market paperback of relatable and exciting content---but also have it be literary fiction.
My own wish for the book would be that it was a little less literary. At least to introduce things. The general personality of the characters, as well as some logistical questions (who is exactly in charge of these "sisters", and are they nuns?), could have been introduced near the beginning, before launching into more esoteric forms of literature. I understood that there were some unhealthy family dynamics going on, but even after hundreds of pages, I wasn't much more specific than that. Perhaps this is me being a lazy (and distracted) reader, but I would have enjoyed the book a bit more if I could have understood the basic conflicts before trying to wade into the oblique description of the characters' thoughts.