"Voss" by Patrick White
"Accordingly, when they made the midday halt, the German called to his dog, and she followed him a short way. When he had spoken a few words to her, and was looking into the eyes of love, he pulled the trigger. He was cold with sweat. He could have shot off his own jaw. Yet, he had done right, he convinced himself through his pain, and would do better to subject himself to further drastic discipline.
"Then the man scraped a hole in which to bury his dog. As the grave was rather shallow, he placed a few stones on top, and some branches from a ragged she-oak, which he found growing there beside the river.
"From a distance the members of his party could have been watching him.
"'What does it matter?' said Turner at last, who had been amongst the most vociferous in Gyp's defense. 'It is only a dog, is it not? And might have become a nuisance. It could be that he has done right to kill it. Only, in these here circumstances, we are all, every one of us, dogs.'"
"Voss" was first published in 1957, and Patrick White is the only Australian author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was an argumentative, fiercely individualistic sort of person, and I'm sure that many of his peers found him intimidating.
Yet whatever his personal failings may have been, "Voss" is an indisputably great novel. It explores the relationship between Voss, the German immigrant to Australia, and Laura, one of the newly arrived "colonials" in New South Wales. The two share a brief intimacy prior to Voss's expedition into the Australian interior, after which point they are separated by miles of wilderness and all of the difficulties that beset the German in pursuit of his vaguely defined goal.
Patrick White's style of writing brings Faulkner to mind, though Voss lacks the labyrinthine sentences and book-length paragraphs that continue to make Faulkner a challenge. Both writers share a love of digressions into memory, both individual and racial. Both also share a love of cryptic statements that give one a sense of teetering on the brink of an abyss. Patrick White is a much easier read than Faulkner, yet not something you'd want to skim through. This book requires a higher level of attention from the reader.
I haven't read much Australian fiction, so I can't say how "Voss" stacks up against other Australian classics. I can say that "Voss" is a great book, and it has me wondering what other Australian writers are out there, waiting, unread.