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Riders in the Chariot (1961)

af Patrick White

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6811933,206 (4.09)2 / 68
Patrick White's brilliant 1961 novel, set in an Australian suburb, intertwines four deeply different lives. An Aborigine artist, a Holocaust survivor, a beatific washerwoman, and a childlike heiress are each blessed-- and stricken-- with visionary experiences that may or may not allow them to transcend the machinations of their fellow men. Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, "Riders in the Chariot" is one of the Nobel Prize winner's boldest books.… (mere)
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Engelsk (17)  Hollandsk (1)  Spansk (1)  Alle sprog (19)
Viser 1-5 af 19 (næste | vis alle)
Riders in the Chariot is so beautiful it hurts. By 1961, Patrick White - having sampled England, the USA, Europe, and the Middle East before and during the war - was already the stuff of Australian legend, living a near-secluded life on his property outside Sydney, kept company only by his partner Manoly and their dogs, and carefully-curated dinner parties with the friends who could still stand him, this opinionated, moody, artistic heir who lived like a provincial greengrocer. He was also about to turn 50, and felt the pressure of age and expectation. Most writers slow down after middle-age; White, if anything, sped up! Having published only two novels in each of the 1940s and 1950s, he would do two plus a short story collection in the 1960s, and then five books in the 1970s.

Riders, to me, is the end of the first major phase of White's writing. It is another reckoning with Australian culture, but - unlike The Tree of Man and Voss - it is focused on the present. Unlike Happy Valley and The Aunt's Story, there is some sun peeking through the clouds. (Some sun. Don't get excited.) In his four disconnected suburban character portraits, White lays bare his fascination with the "other" - and, more to the point, mainstream Australian culture's fascination-cum-disgust with them. Alf the artist, Ruth the humanist, Mordechai the devout, and Miss Hare the lover of nature, are each visionaries (literally, as it turns out) whose lives are as delicately-painted as fine china. It is some of White's best character work, I think, intertwined with hefty religious symbolism.

‘Well,’ replied Mrs Sugden, ‘I cannot deny that Miss Hare is different.’

But the postmistress would not add to that. She started poking at a dry sponge. Even at her most communicative, talking with authority of the weather, which was her subject, she favoured the objective approach.’


For me, the success of White as a novelist lies in the potent meeting of his certainty and his uncertainty. Never one to hold back an opinion, publicly or privately, he was a cantankerous old geezer from about the age of 21. He wanted to lay the sins of Australia bare, if you'll pardon the cliche, and made no bones about same. Yet always the uncertainty. White was doubtful, perhaps even fearful. He knew he was religious, but couldn't pin it down. Deeply asthmatic, he had to retreat from much of the Australian country he wanted to experience (White had to push hard to be enlisted during WWII). He avoided public appearances much of the time over a concern about how he sounded, how he came across. And, of course, his homosexuality was the albatross which he had always accepted, but could never find completely acceptable. And this inability to be completely certain is, I think, what drew White to write such incisive character studies, to second-guess points-of-view, to be a teller of tales rather than seeming didactic (even when he's being so!). I'm reminded of a line from Jessica Anderson's Tirra Lirra by the River in which a dead woman is said to have been sad because "For the whole of her life, she had tried to have faith, and... for the whole of her life, she had only opinions."

Or I could be overthinking it. Perhaps that is enough of my thoughts for one review. The riders' stories achieve the perfect confluence of literary fiction; they mean more than just their own lives, but they also are distinctly that: their own lives. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 24, 2023 |
There is quite a bit of meat on the bone in this novel. The Australian Nobel Prize winner Patrick White (1912-1990) presents four protagonists: millionaire's daughter Mary Mare, the wandering Jew Mordecai Himmelfarb, the aboriginal Alf Gubbo and housekeeper Ruth Godbold. They live in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, and have each had their own special life trajectory. They are nonconformist 'misfits', in a sense socially maladjusted people, and they are viewed as such by the bourgeois community (here mainly personified by the malicious Mrs Jolley and Mrs Falck). But appearances are deceiving.

White takes quite some time to outline their background and life story and delves deep into their psyche, which is quite battered for each of them: Mary has always been spit out by her parents as 'too ordinary', Mordecai survived the Holocaust, Alf was raped by a pastor and Ruth had to face an abusive husband. They see themselves as unworthy sinners, suffering to a greater or lesser extent from an inferiority syndrome. But White sheds quite a different light on them.

Through secondary characters and all kinds of developments, the novel takes on a truly Dickensian allure (sometimes just as elaborate), but White adds his own accents: his sarcasm and satire jump off the pages, and regularly the magical, the spiritual and even the mystical seem to take over the narrative. He almost constantly misleads us, as in this passage, where Himmelfarb walks back to his city which has just been bombed, after a traumatic experience with the Nazis: “The winter evening was drawing in as he approached the darker masses of the town, which had already begun to receive its nightly visitation. The knots and loops, the little, exquisite puffs of white hung on the deepening distances of the sky, all the way to its orange rim. The riot of fireworks was on. Ordinarily solid, black buildings were shown to have other, more transcendental qualities, in that they would open up, disclosing fountains of hidden fire. Much was inverted, that hitherto had been accepted as sound and immutable. Two silver fish were flaming downward, out of their cobalt sea, into the land.” So here, a bombing has been transformed by White into a poetic, pastoral scene.

And the Chariot? Well, it is briefly touched upon in each part, in such a way that you can sense it’s something important, crucial to the story. White consciously leaves it to the reader to discover and fill in the image and its meaning, but it’s another original find of his, the combination of an antique (The Chariot of Apollo) and a biblical (Ezekiel) image. White seems to suggest, no, clearly indicates that his four protagonists are the Riders of the Chariot, because they see more than ordinary people, they are Enlightened (shades of light, and especially that of white, play a prominent role in White's descriptions) , half or whole saints themselves, who transcend the banal, and are clearly on the right side, representing the pinnacle of humanity. The bourgeois, conventional, materialistic world is the opponent force, anti-human and downright evil. So, ultimately, this novel is a variation on the theme of the battle between good and evil, but in a very original form.

To the reader of today this novel may be quite demanding. Not only because of the sometimes very strange (mythical) passages, and because of the story structure that seems a bit too constructed. At times I found White laid it too thick how saintlike his 4 Riders of the Chariot are (especially Mrs Godbold). But the extraordinary style, the humor, and the spiritual imagery make this into an impressive novel. ( )
  bookomaniac | Oct 11, 2023 |
El carro de los elegidos, presenta la necesidad de comprender que la ilustración (en términos estrictamente filosóficos) religiosa o metafísica surge de la simplicidad de la vida, por sí misma, y no puede separarse de ella. Las visiones que colocan a los hombres por encima de los demás llegan incluso en las más inusuales de las mundanas circunstancias. El carro de los elegidos, inspira su nombre de una cita de William Blake sobre los profetas Ezequiel e Isaías, la carroza o el carro representando a Dios como Gracia Divina, terror destructivo y juicio, mientras la sociedad perversa y cruel figura como culpada de sus crímenes, destinada a la maldición.Presenta cuatro personajes, en una novela sin argumento. Aparece un pintor aborigen, marginado por su condición de inferioridad (llamado «negro» en Australia), y es el místico-artístico habitante de los alrededores. La lavandera, que descubre la carroza del bien tras escuchar una pieza de Bach en la catedral, que con sus manos enceradas, su cuerpo robusto y su ignorancia es, en palabras del escritor, «la más positiva evidencia del bien en sencillez». La solterona fea dueña de una heredad en ruinas, el espíritu de la tierra de la novela, que ve la salvación durante sus «instantes» de locura; y finalmente el judío inmigrante Himmelfarb, que logra escapar de las cámaras de gas de Auschwitz que encuentra al bien precisamente mientras los aliados bombardean su pueblo natal, y aunque ha buscado el secreto al éxtasis espiritual en los libros, solo en la bestialidad del hombre encuentra todas las respuestas.Esta novela estudia a cuatro personas a punto de caer en las manos de la maldad, que no es otra que la persecución de los fuertes a los débiles, precisamente en manos de una sociedad completamente mediocre, seducida por la oscuridad de sus instintos.
  Natt90 | Nov 9, 2022 |
3.5 stars, rounded down.

I sometimes complain that books I read are not about anything substantial. Riders in the Chariot does not have that problem. Every page is about something that is meant to be significant. Sadly, I believe White sometimes goes for too much. Too much symbolism, too much obscurity, and too much mysticism. What he does, in consequence, is interrupt the flow of the story and leave the reader feeling he has missed something that is essential to understanding the ideas presented, but too vague to nail down. I would rather have the narrative suggest and give me some room to interpret; for a man who obviously hates preachers, White tends to preach too much.

There are four central characters, each an outsider, with physical repulsions but pure souls. While White appears to be open to Judaism, he shows a marked loathing for other organized religion, making most of the Christians in his novel nothing short of monstrous. The four visionaries that are his main characters find their spiritual connections through other mediums: Mary Hare through nature; Alf Dubbo through art; Mrs. Godbold through humanism; and Mordecai Himmelfarb through Jewish mysticism.

I believe White means us to see all men as the same and faith and religion as an impediment to society rather than an asset:

‘It is the same’ she said, and when she had cleared her voice of hoarseness, continued as though she were compelled by much previous consideration: ‘Men are the same before they are born. They are the same at birth, perhaps you will agree. It is only the coat they are told to put on that makes them all that different. There are some, of course, that feel they are not suited. They think they will change their coat. But remain the same, in themselves. Only at the end, when everything is taken from them, it seems there was never any need. There are the poor souls, at rest, and all naked again, as they were at the beginning. That is how it strikes me, sir. Perhaps you will remember, on thinking it over, that is how Our Lord himself wished us to see it.

While I could easily agree with the quotation above, my own views on faith in general are almost diametrically opposed to White’s. I see my faith as the thing that sustains and supports me, while he saw faith as a thing that corrupts and defiles. I do not mind considering the other man’s point of view, but there was nothing in this novel to convince me that White’s view had merit. The horrors he detailed were the evils of man, not of God.

Some parts of the book are quite compelling and the prose flows, and then there are sections that seem distracting and the writing punishing. I would be thinking to myself that I could not connect to what was going on, and then White would ease into the story and pull me right back in again. I felt their pain, their convictions, their unfair circumstances and the injustice of the society they occupied. I believe White understood outsiders, but I thought he had perhaps viewed too much of the evil to appreciate that there was also good.

I admit to being happy to be done with this chunker. It will probably prey upon my mind for a while, though, because it has an essential element for a good book--it makes you think, it asks you to question, it demands that you inspect your own beliefs and heart.


( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Not sure why I gave this 3 stars before...this was amazing second time around. ( )
  jaydenmccomiskie | Sep 27, 2021 |
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Patrick White's brilliant 1961 novel, set in an Australian suburb, intertwines four deeply different lives. An Aborigine artist, a Holocaust survivor, a beatific washerwoman, and a childlike heiress are each blessed-- and stricken-- with visionary experiences that may or may not allow them to transcend the machinations of their fellow men. Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, "Riders in the Chariot" is one of the Nobel Prize winner's boldest books.

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