Voss, Patrick White, 1957

  • Australia, #12
  • Kindle, £4.68 from Amazon
  • Read May 2014
  • Rating: 5/5
  • Recommended for: Fans of Faulkner and Virginia Woolfe (who are looking for something different, of similar quality); lovers of literary fiction who are up for a challenge

California 2005

Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel literature laureate, has apparently fallen out of favor in recent years. This is a shame, because Voss is one of the most beautiful, difficult, inventive, appallingly good novels I’ve ever read. I compare White to Faulkner and Woolfe, because of the dense poetry of his language, but he’s really a phenomenon all his own. His writing is something new–well, not new, since Voss was written more than half a century ago–but something I have never encountered before. It is like White was starting from scratch with the English language, inventing an entirely new way of using it, using words as tools to gouge away at the surfaces of things and get into their very heart and soul. But it’s not self-conscious in the way many modern “literary” novels are, with the prose getting in the way of the story. It’s difficult to read–I had to read almost every sentence at least twice to get at the meaning of it–and yet the language is always in service of the story, of the plot and the deeper meaning that White aims to convey.

Descriptions of the book say that it’s about a German explorer named Voss and the young English orphan, Laura, who falls in love with him. It is, kind of, but that’s only on the surface. It’s about God, and the failings of man, and the search for truth, and the marriage of true minds. And it’s about Australia, about the beauty and brutality and brilliance of the Australian outback, about man’s futile attempts to tame that magnificent savageness.

California 2005

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