Friday, 15 January 2016

In praise of Murray Bail

It's a rare book that I re-read as soon as I've finished it. I remember I did that with Sebald's "Austerlitz", a book whose mysteries have drawn me in one or two more times since then. Well it just happened again with "The Voyage" by Murray Bail which is, I humbly submit, a masterpiece.

I read the book on the basis of a strong review by Eileen Battersby in The Irish Times, never having heard of Bail before. The plot is a bit odd: an awkward Australian engineer who has designed a revolutionary new piano travels to Vienna to try to sell some there. He becomes entangled with the elegant aristocratic wife of a wealthy businessman, and then more entangled with her distracted daughter.

The novel turns on these relationships, exploring the nature of art, the tension between tradition and innovation, freedom and loyalty, while our hero, Frank Delage, just wants to sell a piano. Eventually he does, only for it to be assaulted in a performance art piece. This all unfolds wittily in delightful prose, as we dance back and forth through the main events. It's brilliant.

So then I read Bail's "The Pages", about the attempt to recover the works of a recently-deceased philosopher from the pages he left behind on the family farm in New South Wales.  So another unusual plot, it's moving and wise and it too is quite brilliant.