Patrick White penned a very strange tale, a tale I think would fair better through a second reading. First time round, I found it rather deceptive. It’s a psychological tale, yet the thoughts and feelings of these characters seem distanced, almost intangible. Like the landscape Voss is traversing, the writing itself is stark and hazy.
The characters seem to be plagued with imaginary ideals. Voss and Laura seem to love each other to the point where they’re symbolically meeting across the void; yet I couldn’t help but wonder as I was reading, whether if ever they met again in person, would they be disappointed in each other. As a pair in the midst of society, they were socially awkward—Laura finding him somewhat repulsive and Voss generally tolerant of her presence, not really caring one way or the other whether Laura was there or not, his mind focused on something else. In that respect, I found the novel somewhat disappointing. Yet, I suppose it does in a way support the Christ-like imagery White incorporates into his tale. When viewing the story in this light, Laura assumes a role akin to Mary Magdalene—by becoming a devoted and faithful disciple to Voss’s beliefs.
This is a very brutal tale, yet it’s honest. The writing is purely sensory, very much like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. When reading Conrad’s novel, the reader feels the darkness and heat Marlow experiences on that river in the Congo. Reading Conrad’s novel was slow, painful torture. When reading White’s novel, I felt as if I was reliving that same experience. The action complements the harsh aridness of the Australian desert Voss’s men traverse. Everything they experience, the reader senses as well. Reading this novel during some of the hottest days of summer, I felt as if I was suffocating with them. Even by novel’s end, there is no real sense of relief. Though one kind of suffering may be over, another still prevails—desolation...emptiness...a forced sense of acceptance. Yet, I think this is the perfect ending for this book; it’s not something White could have written any other way.