Patrick, the greatest novelist to have come out of Australia, had already produced a number of classic novels by the time he released "The Eye of the Storm" in 1973- the year that also saw him win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It is to his credit as a writer that rather than merely repeating the formula of these past successes he explored new territory in terms of style, characterisation and theme with this book.
He had made his reputation by writing about the inner journeys of individuals struggling to find spiritual enlightment in the relentlessly materialistic world of Australia. His heroes had included a ragtag bunch of fascinating outsiders- the mad old nature mystic Miss Hare, neglected Aboriginal artist Alf Dubbo and a visionary explorer in "Voss". In these earlier books White seemed to be suggesting that the mindless fascination with wealth, property and normalcy that pervaded Australian society only left room for individuals to explore deeper issues of spiritual meaning and significance out on the fringes.
It comes as a surprise then that in "The Eye of the Storm", White's heroine is wealthy society woman, Elizabeth Hunter, who seems to embody everything that he most abhored about Australia. The novel explores the life of Elizabeth Hunter through the relationships she has had over many years with a variety of characters, including her lovers, children and servants. The heroine may have been based on Patrick White's own mother and she is presented as essentially destructive in her insistence on dominating others.
The novel is much less religious in its outlook than White's early books. One reviewer described "Riders in the Chariot" as more of a "mystical essay" than a novel but such a description could not be applied to "The Eye of the Storm". Like its heroine, the novel is less mystical and more worldly than what White had given us before. "The Eye of the Storm" is centred more in the painful, toxic relationships that exist between members of a dysfunctional family than in issues of spiritual transcendence. Eventually, during a tropical storm in Queensland, Elizabeth Hunter does experience a moment of spiritual epiphany but this time the heroine is out of her element. She is a stranger to this world and hardly knows what to make of it.
The Nobel Committe had been put off awarding the Prize for Literature to White in 1970 because of the bleak, cynical presentation he had given of the way artists use other people to create art. After all, The Nobel Prize, is supposed to be given to literature of an 'idealistic' nature. It seems fanciful however to think that "The Eye of the Storm" offers a rosier view of human nature than its predecessor. In exploring the emotional wreckage that comes out families and such dark themes as incest, both emotional and physical, "The Eye of the Storm" is unlikely to leave readers with a warm, inner glow. But it may appeal to an audience who like literary fiction which take big chances with language, style and theme. Whilst not one of his best three or four books, it is still rich and rewarding.