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the Complete Review
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Patrick White

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To purchase Voss

Title: Voss
Author: Patrick White
Genre: Novel
Written: 1957
Length: 448 pages
Availability: Voss - US
Voss - UK
Voss - Canada
Voss - India
Voss - Deutschland
  • The Penguin Classics edition (2009) comes with an Introduction by Thomas Keneally
  • Awarded the Miles Franklin Prize (for best Australian novel), 1958
  • Winner of the W.H.Smith Award (for most outstanding contribution to English literature), 1957/58. This was the first time the award was presented.
  • Book of the Month Club main selection.
  • Voss was made into an opera by Richard Meale, with a libretto by David Malouf. It premiered at the Adelaide Festival in 1986, under the direction of Jim Sharman.

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Our Assessment:

A+ : a wrenching tour de force

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 1/2/1958 .
The Bulletin . 5/3/1958 Douglas Stewart
The Guardian A+ 16/11/2002 Thomas Keneally
The LA Times A 29/3/2009 Richard Rayner
The New Yorker . 5/10/1957 .
Sydney Morning Herald B 8/2/1958 Kylie Tennant
Time . 26/8/1957 .
Times Literary Supp. B 13/12/1957 David Tylden-Wright

  From the Reviews:
  • "But re-reading Voss also demonstrates again that although White wasn't "a nice man", and indeed was -- perhaps rightly -- scathingly dismissive of my and other Australian writers' work and origins unless they were his friends, he was a genius, and Voss one of the finest works of the modernist era and of the past century." - Thomas Keneally, The Guardian

  • "White writes beautifully, precisely, and Voss is a heroic, brilliant novel. At its core is a haunting love story between the messianic Voss and Laura Trevelyan, the awkward young orphan he meets in Sydney before his journey." - Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The pace of the book, the strength and power of the prose, the tension and dramatic force, were all there, but when the book strikes off into the deserts of mysticism, I am one of those people who would sooner slink home." - Kylie Tennant, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "In a sense, the book shows the face of a nation seen as in a mirage of 100 years of history. (...) Long a gourmet of ideas. White has obviously come to hanker for the simple fare of his childhood. It is an index of his stature as an artist that he can make this raw dish from down under travel so well so far." - Time

  • "The main virtue and justification of his novel lies in his profound and moving portrayal of the relationship that binds Voss and Laura, and also in his poetic and perceptive description of the Australia of a century ago." - David Tylden-Wright, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Voss is a remarkable book. White's language here is at its simplest and most direct, his story is brutal and wrenching. Set in the mid-nineteenth century White relates the story of Voss, a German who sets out to cross the Australian continent. With a ragtag group he sets out on his ill-advised adventure organized and supported by the wealthy Sydney resident Edmund Bonner. The counterpart to the story of Voss' journey is that of Laura Trevelyan, the Bonner's orphaned niece.
       Laura and Voss are soulmates, realizing only after Voss has finally set off that they belong to each other. Voss proposes in a letter, and Laura waits for him. It is a heartbreaking romance, the two strong-willed individuals, both outsiders, binding their fates together. An unlikely romance, it is haunting and touching. To add to its scope Laura also gets a child, sweet Mercy, in one of White's elegant plot twists.
       The story is remarkable, and remarkably well-told. Neater than many of White's novels, the story unfolds with subtle perfection. It is finely crafted, perfectly structured, despairingly eloquent. It is a beautiful romance.
       White's common leaps of time are less bothersome here than elsewhere in his fiction. It is a weighty book -- long, occasionally ponderous -- and it requires some patience. That said: it is near-perfect, and highly recommended to one and to all.

       There seems to have been some ambivalence among Australians regarding this ultra-Australian novel. The influence of the book down under has been, perhaps, too great, and given its white-hot portrayal of the nation and the people it arguably touches too close to home. We never approved of nationalist criticism (never approving of nationalism in any form) so we do not think Aussie complaints regarding this book should be taken too seriously. Nevertheless we feel obligated to quote Patrick Whites own words, written some twenty-five years after publication of this great book:

"As it is I'm a dated novelist, whom hardly anybody reads, or if they do, most of them don't understand what I am on about. Certainly I wish I had never written Voss, which is going to be everybody's albatross."

(From a letter to Joseph Losey, April 4, 1981. Losey was the man White had chosen to direct the film version of the book, a project that was never realized.)

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Voss: Reviews: Patrick White: Other books by Patrick White under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Patrick White (1912-1990), Australian author. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. Schooled in England (at Cheltenham, and King's College, Cambridge). His first novel Happy Valley was published in 1939. Worked for R.A.F Intelligence during WWII, after which he returned to Australia.

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