Worth the Effort,
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (Paperback)Yeah, he's Australian, and a Nobel Laureate to boot, two immediate strikes against any serious literary interest. His prose is so thick it could be used to reinforce concrete. His characters run the gamut from the Symbolic to the Deeply Symbolic, and have a tendency to climb onto soapboxes at the drop of a digger hat (often to ludicrous effect, as at the end of "Voss", where the 19th-century characters turn their backs on the business at hand--the death of a noted explorer--to spend the final pages on a 20th-century-style debate concerning the Status of Australian Literature). It often seems as if he went out of his way to adapt only the worst traits of his master, Dostoevsky, while tossing all the worthwhile ones.
But there's something to Patrick White, and this novel is where it all came together for him. Anthony Burgess, unlike the Nobel committee, didn't select this as one of his 99 great novels simply to shoehorn an Aussie onto the list, and there's a touch of the Burgessian in this novel's sprawl and reach. The characters, especially Alf Dubbo and Mrs. Godbold, stand well apart from whatever it is they're supposed to Represent. Although it occasionally falls to the level of a morality play, the story gains power as it progresses--one of the chief benefits of writing at this length. And though the climax, embodied in the murder of the Holocaust survivor Mordecai Himmelfarb, has its flaws (the author of "Days of Cain" can tell you that subtlety is the chief requirement for dealing with the Holocaust--the subject is simply too vast to handle otherwise), the conclusion is satisfying on all levels, with no (well, very little) last-minute thumping of the lectern on the author's part. In fact, the final pages are rapier-sharp examples of a writer hitting exactly what he was aiming at--the final fate of the vicious Miss Hare and Mrs. Jolley is as harrowing a portrayal of damnation as anything this side of Charles Williams.
In the end we're left with a pure rendering of the quiet power of human decency, and the lovely image of that chariot in which we all wish to ride--the one that leaves its tracks in the salmon clouds of sunset.