Patrick White: Voss

A brief summary of the colonial past of Australia: The Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901. Prior to that, Australia had been taken over by British settlers gradually, an area after another. It is recorded that the first British ship to land on an Australian shore was  in 1770, and a remarkable landing occurred in 1788, when the ship landed with a load of British convicts – the punishments of these prisoners were turned into a settling of  the new territory, namely in Australia. This conquest of the new land was being executed at the expense of the evacuations of the aboriginals, who were forced to moved away from the Southern parts. The conflicts were inevitable (Source: Maailmalla – Afrikka ja Oseania, 2009, free translation). It is in this context where the story of Patrick White’s Voss start.

Patrick White, a winner for Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, is an Australian author who is considered amongst the great novelists of the twentieth century. Despite the literary honor, his name might be forgotten amongst the younger readers of today. He published short stories and plays, and altogether twelve novels, of which we read his work Voss, published in the late 1950’s.

Voss is described as a book of a man’s odyssey across the Australian landscape and a love story. Despite the appetising ingredients of the good story, our book club readers did not find the novel too tasty. The protagonists of the story, a German traveller/explorer called Voss and Laura Travelyan, a young and intelligent woman of higher class, are introduced almost right away, of which the reader is thankful for. We come to learn that there is a colonial governance system in power in the 1840´s. Voss gathers an expedition group around him and the journey for the search can begin. At this point, the reader is already a bit confused – where are they heading for, what are the relationships among the explorers, and why Laura and her cousin are SO upset when they see the ships leave the shore?

Whether it is necessary to hang on to the illogical details as these mentioned above, as a whole, this is probably one of the reasons why the reading of this book was such a challenge. The sentences are full of adjectives and constructed in complex ways – whether it is intentional from the author to convey the atmosphere of the 19th century or not, we just found it difficult and boring to follow the text. However, some biblical references and an exceptionally strong female character (Laura) were some features that the book club paid attention to.

Also, the fact that the ”love story”of the lovers was almost non-existent and thus non-credible, could exactly convey the liaisons of the past times – for just to ”imagine” your beloved was meaningful. What a disappointment, though, to witness this in White´s novel. Also, the story is a white man’s story that seems to leave the aboriginal experience into the shadows.

As a conclusion, book clubbers decided to recommend the book for readers, who want to challenge themselves and who suffer from insomnia – the book makes you fall asleep surprisingly fast. 🙂






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