Review Blog

Jan 25 2013

The Voyage by Murray Bail

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Text, 2012, ISBN 9781921922961.
(Age: Adult - Senior students) The main character of this novel for adults and senior readers is Frank Delage who manufactures pianos to his own revolutionary design. Accompanied by a piano he travels to Vienna from Sydney, where his workshop is based, to publicise his wares in one of the cultural centres of Europe. What follows is a Jamesian juxtaposition between the old rich and traditional culture of Vienna and the gauche clumsiness of the colonial who has travelled to show them a new way of making 'their' instrument. In drawing rooms where Strauss played and Schoenberg had visited Delage tries to awaken the Viennese to his new ideas, but with little success. The Viennese salesmen do not need more piano designs and dislike even the colour of the Australian timbers he has used, and the Viennese aristocracy seem rather amused by the oddity of a new style of piano. Frank is aware of himself as a man with little charm, a quality he does not trust, and little business acumen. He does attract attention from the aristocratic and cultured Amalia Marie von Schalla who may have had doubts about his piano but liked him enough to show him her breasts. Unfortunately for her, Frank has by now also attracted the attentions of her daughter Elizabeth who decides to accompany Frank on his less than triumphant return home. He does sell one piano, but it has little chance of converting listeners to its radical design as it has been chosen to be centre piece of a conceptual work in which the piano is totally destroyed. Oddly for a maker of pianos Frank likes silence and particularly dislikes the chatter of the drawing room and his sister, and all women, it's tempting to conclude. He had hoped for a silent sea voyage home, but has to engage with Elizabeth and the few other passengers. His reflections on his experience and his reactions to that experience are expressed in a stream-of-consciousness style that jumps from subject to subject, often mid-sentence. Frank is not a believable character and the style is clumsy. Fortunately this book is short as it never springs to life.
Jenny Hamilton

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