This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge. Also part of my 60 Books Challenge: Based on a true story.
Based on a true story of exploration in the Australian Outback, Voss, by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Patrick White, epitomises nineteenth-century Australian society and explorer mentality.
Johann Ulrich Voss is a German explorer who is set on being the first to cross Australia, based on Ludwig Leichhardt, who famously got lost in the Australian Outback.
It’s as much a story about passion as it is about exploration. Voss meets a young woman called Laura, who is new to New South Wales and who is the – slightly naive – niece of Voss’ expedition sponsor. Laura and Voss connect on a deep level and share an almost spiritual bond as he leaves on his ill-fated expedition into Australia’s red centre.
Why a character like Voss, who although being enigmatic is also quite arrogant and introverted, would choose to lead an expedition is a bit of a mystery. His sponsors insist on him taking a whole entourage of characters with him, even though it is obvious that Voss would prefer to travel solo. Keeping in contact with Laura as far as possible as many letters do get lost, they come to see each other as husband and wife, even though most of their relationship exists and progresses only in their dreams and imaginations.
Though it is not the main character who is the most interesting figure in this story. Voss’ team consists of a handful of men, all distinct and all misfits, even in their own small group of misfits. Their interactions are what moves the plot along, and they are fascinating to observe. Once the group of explorers encounters aboriginal folk in the Outback, the story becomes infused with their spiritualism as well. Aboriginal people come across as completely “other” and strange, compared to the colonial explorers, and their interactions with Voss’ band of people are rife with communication problems and cultural misunderstandings which are nevertheless crucial to the story.
Patrick White’s writing is simultaneously strange and beautiful. He creates characters and paints landscapes the descriptions of which will stay with readers.White’s story is littered with observations and psychology, and sentences are sometimes designed to be tripping people up while reading.
A story of love, loss, and the dangers of the Outback. Voss truly is the quintessential, modernist Australian novel.
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Author: Patrick White
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Release Date: 1994 (originally published in 1957)