The voyage by Murray Bail
Text Publishing, 2012. ISBN 9 781921 922961.
(Age: Sophisticated secondary readers) This book is known to be about an Australian who invented a piano and took it to Vienna to promote and hopefully sell. The title is the key to the novel, however. It is set during Frank Delage's boat voyage home, and this journey also provides the opportunity and frame-work to relate his past and present experiences and thoughts.
Delage is a fascinating figure whose naturally introverted and self-centred character is unpeeled like a multi-wrapped 'pass-the-parcel'. Secrets, insights and fantasies are disclosed at every layer. His conversational strategies of pausing, stating the obvious and deflection show author, Murray Bail's skill in constructing both a unique protagonist and perhaps also subtly revealing some of the mechanics of his writing.
The structure also allows the merge and morph of Viennese mother, Amalia and daughter, Elisabeth, with both of whom Delage has affairs. Why would these women be interested in him? How reliable is his telling?
Australia is also a symbol in this novel. Questions are raised about its place in the New and Old Worlds, perhaps epitomised by Delage's brown (rather than black) piano and his vision of painted eucalypts on their lids. This, of course, is a reminder of Bail's seminal work, Eucalyptus but The Voyage, with its fine, literary writing and vision, is also an exceptional Australian piece.