The Voyage

The Voyage

Murray Bail, Text

Frank Delage, a naive provincial inventor, a piano manufacturer, travels from Sydney to Vienna, from the New World to the Old World, spruiking his Delage concert grand, a Trojan horse on a “foray against the ramparts of old Europe”.

He compares Europe, a place hardly able to breathe, with classic pianos, Steinways, Bechsteins, Bosendorfers, gathering dust in silent rooms.

As he struggles to impress with his piano’s technical precision he becomes entangled with two landlocked women and, dejected, returns to Australia on a container ship.

His chance meeting with music patron Amalia von Schalla had brought new possibilities — not the least being a connection with her daughter Elisabeth. In Vienna his straightforwardness left him at a disadvantage, except in the company of the two women, the attraction to whom made him more complex. He was modified by Vienna, by conversation, by the voyage.

This is a novel about conversation: the motion of the ship, Romance — a ship that never stops moving — draws words.

Delage, not a talkative person, considers how most things are not worth saying, yet continue to be said; how there was something wrong with people who never stopped talking; that hearing an excess of pointless words can be psychologically damaging; why you can’t really trust what people say; questioning if a person means what they say, even when it is based on fact; noting the significance or not of a smile as a conversation aid; how conversations can be difficult, never neutral, stable or innocent; but that talking is all right, as long as it makes a difference.

The Voyage is an unconventional novel, with a musical rhythm that transposes you, fluidly, dreamily, from one place and time to another; from ship to Vienna or Sydney, sometimes within a sentence.

With asides about society, culture, art and invention, including novel writing, the story of the piano provides a deeper structure for the main event: a man and a woman talking.

As the publisher claims, the beautiful hardcover edition of Murray Bail’s latest work is the perfect gift for lovers of fine Australian literature.

Stephen Webb

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