Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 2, 2012

Sensational Snippets: The Voyage (2012), by Murray Bail

I am reading The Voyage, by Murray Bail, and although I’ve read only a few pages, I have noticed something most interesting….

This is the blurb from the Text website:

The Voyage is a masterly novel by a great writer at the peak of his powers.

Frank Delage, piano manufacturer from Sydney, travels to Vienna, a city immersed in music, to present the Delage concert grand. He hopes to impress with its technical precision, its improvement on the old pianos of Europe.

How could he not know his piano is all wrong for Vienna? Perhaps he should have tried Berlin.
But a chance meeting with Amalia von Schalla brings new possibilities for Delage—connections, her daughter Elisabeth, and an avant garde composer. Now travelling home, on a container ship, with Elisabeth, the real story is about to begin.

Well, I don’t need any blurb to tell me that Bail is a masterly writer… I thought The Pages was brilliant and so did the Miles Franklin judges who shortlisted it in 2008.  So I was a bit taken aback by the strangeness of a sentence like this:

On this subject, Delage, the manufacturer, could be tenacious, sarcastic, indignant, intent on demolishing, or at least reducing, the opposing forces.

All those commas. Very odd.

Read it out loud.
Feel the rhythm.

Is it not a waltz?

I don’t have the wherewithal on my computer to show this, but in my reading journal I have transposed this sentence into musical notation, with crotchets, quavers, and the occasional rest, with a grace note on De/lage.  Three beats to the bar…

Cunning, eh?

More later …

Author: Murray Bail
Title: The Voyage
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 9781921922961
Source: Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing

Fishpond: The Voyage
Or direct from Text Publishing:



  1. Wow, that’s an amazing observation Lisa. And so clever.


  2. Very clever, & impressive to even know the musical notes!


    • I don’t know if I’m on the right track with this idea, it’s just it seems odd when a great writer pens a sentence that doesn’t seem to flow in the way I expect, so I look for some sort of explanation. And Bail is an author who likes to play with style and form…


      • I suspect it was one of those clever things that authors do, almost a joke to the reader. I forwarded the sentence to my musical friend and asked her what she thought of it. Like me she is an early bird and has replied already with the comment “fabulous, I must read this book!”


  3. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on this one. Bail does get published in North America (after a wait, of course) and I very much liked both The Pages and Eucalyptus. From what I remember of The Pages, I’m not suprised at the “musicality” you found in those sentences — he seems to like using the structure of language to help reflect his characters.


    • Oh yes, and it gets better. The ship ploughs on through all kinds of weather on the voyage, and the sentences – these curious assemblages of words and ‘excessive commas’ are like waves, ebbing and flowing in choppy rhythms across very, very long paragraphs. It’s only a short book, 197 pages in a gorgeous hadback edition with expensive paper, but it is taking pleasurable ages to read because I keep stopping to write my observations and responses in my journal, a vain effort to ‘keep’ them!


  4. That is cunning. And since I have no musical ability whatsoever I would miss it entirely. I read Bail’s Eucalyptus years ago and liked it very much. I should get my hands one of his other books sometime.


    • I have some early ones to read too. I read Homesickness ages ago, but there’s one called Holden’s Performance I’d like to find.


  5. I’m thinking of writers who deliberately follow musical forms – George Sand’s ‘rondo’ comes to mind. It would be interesting to ask Murray Bail if his ‘waltz’ was intentional.


    • And Brain Castro’s The Bath Fugues…


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