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The Voyage

2 November 2012 Books

The Voyage

Murray Bail

Frank Delage travels from Sydney, Australia, to Vienna, Austria, to interest Europeans in his reinvention of the piano. As a business trip this is not a success, though he has more luck with a wealthy Viennese patron of the arts and her daughter, for whom a slow trip with Frank back to Australia is inexplicably appealing. The Voyage is the story of this trip although, really, there’s more style than story. Bail works slowly: his first novels, Homesickness (1980) and Holden’s Performance (1987) were very good; his third, Eucalyptus (1998), won him the Miles Franklin gong. Here, he mostly shuns things like chapters, paragraphs and chronology, which makes this the literary equivalent of one of those fancy-pants restaurant dishes prepared with cryogenics: impressive but not very filling. The intriguing bits are digressions where, it seems, the author makes clear his disdain for critics  (“a critic begins as a failure”), bankers (“their skill, such as it was, consisted of nothing more than allowing money to pass through their hands”) and Australian newspapers (“amongst the worst in the world”). There’s a nice twist at the end, but some readers may jump overboard before then.