Friday, June 29, 2007

Voss by Patrick White

This space under construction. I have embarked upon my second White novel, so stay tuned for updates.
--Chiron, 6/23/07

This is one terrific story, but it is much deeper than that for several reasons.

First of all these are extremely complex characters. The omniscient narrator peels each one a layer at a time, and seems to learn more about each character as he unfolds the story.
Second, two stories are told in two voices. The story of Laura Trevelyan and the society she inhabits in 1845 Sydney, Australia is every bit as vivid and enchanting as Jane Austen’s best drawing room and ball scenes. The other story is of the title character, Ulrich Voss, who leads an expedition to cross the Australian outback with a few horses, some cattle, sheep, and goats. He gathers a disparate variety of individuals on this quasi-scientific expedition. This part of the novel descends from the best adventure writing of the 40s and 50s.
The personalities of all these people clash, and cling to one another while undergoing extraordinary changes. I thought of comparing this novel to something else I have read, and settled on Cold Mountain for the beauty of the prose and the epic quality of the stories, and, of course, Sense and Sensibility for beauty and grace of society as the two best candidates.
The writing is wonderful, but, at times, it can be a struggle. Here is an example of White’s style:

"The Bonner’s garden was a natural setting for young ladies, observers were aware, particularly for the niece, who was of a more solitary nature, and given to dabbling in flowers, in a lady-like manner, of course, when the climate permitted. In the mornings and the evenings she would be seen to cut the spring roses, and lay them in the long, open-ended basket, which the maid would be carrying for that purpose. The maid was almost always at her heels. People said that Miss [Laura] Trevelyan demanded many little, often unreasonable services, which was only to be expected of such an imperious young person, and a snob" (152).

Henry James (writing longer sentences) in Portrait of a Lady, also comes to mind. The style requires a great deal of concentration. If you like a challenging novel, the book may be hard to find, but it is well-worth the effort. I found an excellent reading copy on Amazon. Five stars
--Chiron, 7/5/07

1 comment:

Bibliolatrist said...

I can't wait to hear about this one! I keep forgetting to buy The Aunt's Story.