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THE VOYAGE by Murray Bail


by Murray Bail

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62365-072-8
Publisher: MacLehose Press

Australian novelist Bail (Eucalyptus, 1998, etc.) offers a slim avant-garde novel with a narrative that cavorts through time and space.

Frank Delage invents a new concert grand piano, self-engineered at his Sydney, Australia, factory, a piano of "radical construction" from whose "logic and mechanical efficiency came the distinctive new sound." Delage travels from Sydney to Vienna, Austria, which he believes is the center of classical music, to demonstrate his invention. Delage’s piano befuddles Vienna’s insular musical society, but he serendipitously befriends Amalia von Schalla, a wealthy arts patron, then her husband, Konrad, a coldly dispassionate but prosperous investor, and finally her 30-something daughter, Elisabeth. Frank is forever misapprehending the women in his life. He feels sexually drawn to elegantly beautiful Amalia, who radiates eroticism but seems indifferent to him. However, Elisabeth, nearer his age, is attracted to Frank, but he's oblivious. Amalia alternately lures Frank and then rejects him while daughter Elisabeth attaches herself to him with what seems puzzling lassitude. In a post-modern, shape-shifting narrative that pushes Bail’s work into a near stream-of-consciousness dream state, Frank’s sojourn plays out in the past tense, a story told after he chooses to sail home on Romance, a German container ship equipped to carry a few passengers. The narrative unfolds and shifts from setting to setting—Sydney, Vienna, aboard ship—and from paragraph to paragraph and even sometimes within a single sentence. Bail uses no chapters, no delineations, offering the tale in third person. Exotic characters appear, disappear, reappear, including an art critic dressed all in black whose home burns down as he lectures; an experimental composer who destroys a Delage piano as it’s being played by a nude woman; and aboard the Romance, a newly divorced Dutchman, a pair of sisters and a quarreling English couple.

In a quixotic narrative that zigs and zags and turns back upon itself, an esoteric exploration of passion and love, memory and ambition is revealed in pointillist fashion.