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The Memoirs of Many in One: By Alex Xenophon…

The Memoirs of Many in One: By Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray

by Patrick White

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Patrick White was 73 when he started writing his last completed novel and unsurprisingly it’s theme was old age and worries of approaching senility. The author was complaining that age was a dreadful mess and that his life would be a shambles to the end. In Memoirs of Many in One he took the point of view of an elderly woman whose mind was being overtaken by confusion and delusion.

The Book cover proudly announces that Memoirs of Many in One is by Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray “edited” by Patrick White. His publishers thought that this would be confusing but White refused to change it. The idea behind the book is that Alex Xenophon Demirijian Gray has recently been writing her memoirs scribbling away at every opportunity, but with a decline in health she asks her friend Patrick White to edit them for her. In this way White gets to explore the mind of an elderly woman on the edge of senility from a first person perspective, but he can also intervene as the editor and where required he can slip into the third person to provide some continuity. There is much of Patrick White in his created character Alex Gray but he also appears as himself in the story, giving him some great opportunities to put his stamp; his outlook, his perspective on all the issues in this novel. .

After a short introduction by the editor (White) explaining how the novel will work, the reader is immediately plunged into the mind of Alex and taken on a roller coaster through her current fears: that her family are planning to have her locked away in a mental hospital, through to her thoughts about her past life, some of which may be imaginary and some of which is certainly from her dreams. As the novel progresses, her increasing inability to separate past events from current actions and her now fading memory is handled well. White presents us with a very realistic portrait of an elderly woman still at odds with the world. We follow Alex on a jaunt through the city on foot when she gets it into her head to escape from her daughter, we also follow her as a member of a drama group on a cash strapped tour through the Australian outback and we are with her when she tries to carry out the most basic functions in the house where she lives..

Critics have compared this novel with the much earlier [The Aunt's Story], where White took his readers inside the head of an elderly woman on the edge of mental health. That novel published 38 years earlier contains some of Whites best experimental writing where he was pushing the boundaries of his art and managed to produce a portrait that had a certain mysticism amidst the confused mind of his central character: Memoirs never reaches those heights, but the more prosaic writing achieves a full and rounded picture of a woman losing her mind, in a very different situation.; a situation where the ageing process is wholly responsible for the loss of mental faculties, but the protagonist is still struggling to make sense of it all. Patrick White never ceased to try and make sense of the world he lived in and it seemed to become increasingly more important as he got older. He joked that he wanted to finish his novel about a senile woman before senility overtook him.

Memoirs of Many in One is a fine achievement, there is a light hearted feel about much of the story telling and White does well in avoiding making this too grim a subject. It is not so dense as many of his novels and at just over 190 well spaced pages can be read in one sitting. I enjoyed it and would rate it at 3.5 stars. ( )
1 vote baswood | Dec 30, 2012 |
An odd book, late in White's career. Cannot be recommended for any except the most curious of White's fans. ( )
  georgekilsley | Aug 9, 2010 |
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Gray, Alex Xenophon Demirjian is the pseudonym of Patrick White

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