Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 8, 2013

Sensational Snippets: Lost Voices (2012) by Christopher Koch

Lost VoicesThe whole point about great literature is that it offers more to think about than just the plot and the characters…

I am reading Lost Voices  by Christopher Koch, who writes great literature.  Having now read all but one of the current 2013 Miles Franklin longlist, I can’t imagine how the  judges justified their omission of this book from it …

This Sensational Snippet is an example of the thought-provoking genius of this author’s work.  Hugh Dixon is remembering his youth from the vantage point of old age:

If we live long enough, the people and places belonging to our youth begin to take on the quality of fiction.  This is how it is in my case.  When I look back to 1953, reveries and actuality are mingled.  Glass-thin, sunny visions of joy and the inexpressible are blurred and interwoven with the ordinary, and the people of that far-off decade inhabit another life: a life in which I took part but where I almost seem to be someone else.  My native city has changed since then as well.  These days, its penal origins are receding into a final dimness; but in the 1950s, the nineteenth century of its birth still hung on in the central areas of Hobart, like an ancient, ineradicable stench.  This wasn’t so of the suburbs – whose houses and streets, mostly on the edges of the country, had an untroubled innocence about them – but the city itself remained a dwarf child of London: the sombre, gimcrack London of Dickens and Henry Mayhew.  Derelict figures out of Dickens still passed one by in the poorer parts of town, and phantoms of wickedness lurked in the laneways, and bubbled up out of the drains.  Serious crime was rare; but when it took place, it seemed to reach out from that old hard-knuckled century that was gone. 

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch, Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) 2012, p. 285-6

I shall remember this passage next time I’m in Hobart!

BTW, in the paperback edition I’m reading, the cover opens out to reveal this magnificent painting of a daring robbery on what is now Melbourne’s beautiful St Kilda Rd leading to the south-eastern suburbs.  I drove along this very road yesterday on my way home from a concert at the Arts Centre.

Bushrangers (1877) by William Strutt (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Bushrangers on the St Kilda Rd 1852 by William Strutt (1877) (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

This painting is featured on the cover because Lost Voices is amongst other things a gripping story featuring bushrangers!

Here’s just a little sample, which I’ve chosen with great care and tweaked just a little bit so that it doesn’t give away any spoilers:

The man behind the woodheap was no doubt reloading, and silence fell again.  It was now very still, and the calls of magpies from the gum forest came sharply across the hollow.  No other sounds: the drawling of the hens had ceased; they’d vanished from the yard.  [He] took advantage of the lull to settle himself against a boulder in the grass and rest the barrel of his Enfield on top of it.  He had cocked the hammer in the firing position, and sighted along the barrel at the woodheap.  There was now a pause in time which seemed to have no dimension, while [he] lay motionless, and [the others] crouched against the wall of the barn.

This is the beginning of a very exciting sequence which is riveting to read.  But it also alerts the reader to the complexity of celebrity bushrangers…

Christopher Koch, one of Australia’s best.  More about him when I review the book properly!

Author:Christopher Koch
Title: Lost Voices
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) 2012
ISBN: 9780732294632
Source: Personal copy, purchased from Readings, $32.99


Fishpond: Lost Voices 


  1. How perfectly he captures Hobart.
    What a writer! “that old hard-knuckled century”. Perfect.


    • Yes, isn’t he? I have another one of his on the TBR, called Out of Ireland. Something to look forward to…


  2. “If we live long enough, the people and places belonging to our youth begin to take on the quality of fiction.” That’s a great line. I can look back at my childhood now, and it seems like an entirely different Universe.


    • Yes, brilliant. I finished the book yesterday and am mulling over my review, and wishing I could have another book just like it, right now.


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