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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic scope and mystical significance.
This deceptively complex and tension-filled Australian novel begins as the straightforward story of Mary Hare, a strange, half-mad spinster who lives in Xanadu, a crumbling "pleasure dome," with the busybody Mrs. Jolley, a servant she fears. At various times in her meanderings, Mary meets a kind laundress named Mrs. Godbold, who lives in a shed with her nine children;...
Published on July 11, 2002 by Mary Whipple

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreary Diatribe
I gave this book 3 stars because of its attempt at originality. The writing style could be good but often was not. When it was good, it was brilliant. When it was not good, it was a train wreck. As far as I am concerned, the main characters were contrived. The people and the story were not authentic even though elements may very well have been. What was White trying...
Published 6 months ago by Aussie Booklover


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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic scope and mystical significance., July 11, 2002
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
This deceptively complex and tension-filled Australian novel begins as the straightforward story of Mary Hare, a strange, half-mad spinster who lives in Xanadu, a crumbling "pleasure dome," with the busybody Mrs. Jolley, a servant she fears. At various times in her meanderings, Mary meets a kind laundress named Mrs. Godbold, who lives in a shed with her nine children; Alf Dubbo, an often-drunk aborigine artist; and Mordecai Himmelfarb, a Jewish concentration camp survivor who has emigrated to Australia and now works in a machine shop.

In succeeding sections, in which these characters overlap, their intricate interior lives are developed in colorful, memorable detail, and the reader quickly sees that each is a lonely survivor of some traumatic experience which has made him/her question the nature of good and evil. Each hopes to unravel some of the mysteries at the center of the universe. Remarkably, all of them have experienced the same apocalyptic vision of a chariot being drawn by four horses galloping into a shimmering future.

In the hands of a lesser writer, the characters, their daily lives, and their vision of the chariot might have been presented in a sentimental or romantic way, or even been used to illustrate the author's religious views. But White's view of the chariot and its importance is far subtler--and more enigmatic--than that, and its role in the lives of these characters is both unsentimental and haunting. Tantalizing parallels between the vision of the chariot and the mysteries of Revelations, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Seven Seals, along with Biblical warnings about blood, fire, and destruction will keep a symbol-hunter totally engaged. At the same time, more literal readers will find the stories and characters so firmly grounded in the reality of 1960's Australia, that they are captivating in their own right and may be taken, and thoroughly enjoyed, at face value.

This is a huge novel, an old-fashioned saga of fascinating characters living their lives the best way they can, while wrestling with issues of epic significance. The author's primary concern with telling a good story never falters, despite the overlay of mysticism, and the leisurely pace and fully realized dramatic action make this a totally fulfilling reading experience. Mary Whipple
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonshing. Unforgettable., September 10, 2002
By 
Edward McGowan (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Riders in the Chariot is a supreme work of art. At least a dozen times, I found White's writing so moving and beautiful that I had to put the book down and reflect on what I'd just read. All too rarely has a book prodded me to deeply examine my own life and priorities -- this book is one of them. Riders in the Chariot provides a reaffirmation for the jaded 21st century reader: humilty over arrogance, beauty over ugliness, good over evil.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Down And Out Down Under, October 29, 2005
By 
Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
This is not a particularly cheery book. It deals with the lives of outcasts and what we today would, callously, call freaks. The book, while it does go into meticulous detail of the biographical material of the main characters' respective lives, is not primarily concerned with these elements. The book is centred around the visionary, otherworldly qualities of each, particularly a shared vision each of the four main characters has of a chariot mentioned in the book of Ezekiel.-This quality separates them from the world and people around them, which are clearly meant to be disparaged.-As Miss Hare cogitates in regard to the danger one of these normal people, Mrs Jolley: "But she did sense some danger to the incorporeal, the more significant part of her."-That significant part in all the four characters is the essential matter of the book.

Other people in the book are given to insubstantial matters, cruelty, and obliviousness, frequently rendered comically by White:

The other ladies glanced at her skin, which was white and almost unprotected, whereas they themselves had shaded their faces, with orange, with mauve, even with green, not so much to impress one another, as to give them the courage to confront themselves (p.323)

All very well. But it is this Manichean dualism between the saintly four characters and, well, everybody else which leads me to refrain from giving it five stars. Anyone who has encountered the world in its chaos of identities, acts of kindness, visionary aspects, thuggish and sadistic aspects knows that we all carry in us both the visionary, sensitive private individualism of the main characters, on the one hand, and the thuggish herd instinct of----everyone else in this book.

Still, it's well worth the read. White is a remarkable writer, and the work, despite my misgivings, is one every thoughtful person should not merely have on his or her bookshelf, but have read, from beginning to end. Its insights into prelinguistics subconscious perception are not to be surpassed---anywhere.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The amazing richness of literature and mysticism, April 21, 2005
By 
Alekos (Cancun, Quintana Roo Mexico) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
About a quarter of the way into this book I realized I was reading a brilliant treatise on mystical theology written in the form of a novel. This is a magnificent piece of work that brings together several realms of meaning, various settings, and divergent attitudes and dispositions about what it means to be truly human and live among other humans. There are four major protagonists of widely differing backgrounds. Each represents a peculiar moral stance that makes them capable of some unexpected actions and disables them with regard to others. Most of the action takes place in and around Sydney, Australia, but there are "lead up" sections in England and Germany. Mary Hare is ugly, less than intelligent, and stark raving mad. She lives in a crumbling mansion and experiences difficulty in trying to communicate with other people. For her, words are fragile and sometimes breakable and people use them in cruel ways. Yet she is an attractive personality whom we come to like because she is described from the inside. That is, we know what she feels, suffers and, most of all, remembers. Himmelfarb is a German Jew, a brilliant professor of philosophy whose father inexplicably converts to Christianity, thereby causing his mother to fade slowly away from sadness and a sense of being betrayed and victimized. He escapes the "final solution" by immigrating to Australia and taking a meaningless job in a factory owned by another German Jew who has also "converted." Ruth Godbold, a saintly laundress who lives in a shed with four daughters and an abusive husband, communicates mainly through acts of kindness. She nurses Mary Hare during a long illness and takes care of Himmelfarb in his last agony when some redneck thugs at the factory try to crucify him. Alf Dubbo, a native Australian brought up by religious people whose religiosity is questionable, develops his talent at painting and communicates through art. His ability to make moral decisions is confounded by his early experience with the preacher who kept sticking his hand into Alf's trousers.

These four have little contact and less communication with each other. None of them understands what the others are saying, except in a pre-linguistic sense. At a certain level, they already know what the others are saying, but they know it on a non-conscious level, like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (whence the book's title is derived).

These four major personages suffer physically and morally and profoundly. This book zeroes in on the reality of human suffering and shows that we suffer or cause others to suffer because of some flaw in our own characters, in the sense of Sophocles. This is not, of course, the "message" of the novel (novels don't have messages; we all know that). More importantly, we see throughout the book the collective and communitarian dimension of suffering and its intellectual connections to some prophetic books of the Old Testament that emphasize the unitary nature of humankind and the need for a "suffering servant" to atone and expiate for the sins of others.

As a prose stylist, Patrick White is impressive, maybe supreme. This is the most well written book I have read in many years. His sentences are beautifully fragmented and fractured. His language (use of adjectives, etc.) is extraordinarily rich. In fact, it is gorgeous. Words and ideas have colors and smells. He omits unnecessary direct-object pronouns and even definite articles. Even the sound of his prose is amazingly satisfying: he makes liberal use of alliteration, especially in initial consonants, but in other contexts as well. Figures and tropes abound, even zeugma. And finally, if anyone wants an example of a memorable sentence, let me offer this one from page 26:

Mrs. Hare had soon taken refuge from Mary in a rational kindness, with which she continued to deal her a series of savage blows during what passed for childhood.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The richest novel in the world, June 6, 2005
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White's international superseller at the time, was born from an incident in the late 40s, when a taxi driver, demanding the full fare of the journey from Sydney's Central Station to Petty's Hotel, was refused by White and began screaming "Go back to Germany!" White later confessed: "I think it was this more than anything which persuaded me to write the novel Riders". Fortunately, such germ was the foundation of one, perhaps the greatest, of the 20th century literary monuments, dense as the greatest novels are, but fleshy in the end, too much indeed. It is a plotless novel-as are most works by White, and if there's a plot, its one of living and surviving. The novel traces the lives of the 4 characters from their origin to their ends (something White is an undoubtful master doing, and White puts his hand on marvellous devices of narration as stream of conscioussness, epiphanies and of course, the wonderful and hillarious use of adjectives, though sometimes the image, nearer to incongruency but finally well put, is difficult to convey.

The chariot, itself, was familiar to Blake, Ovid, the apocalyptic writers of the Bible and to Redon. In White's chariot, as David Marr reported, "the riders are those who have known illumination as he had experienced it in mystical ecsatsy, in creation, music", etc. White wrote, according to his letters (to his Viking editor Ben Huebsch in February 1959): "What I want to emphasise through my four "Riders" - an orthodox refugee intellectual Jew, a mad Erdgeist of an Australian spinster, an evangelical laundress, and a half-caste Aboriginal painter- is that all faiths, whether religious, humanistic, instinctive, or the creative artist's act of praise, are in fact one". And for example, is a brilliant detail that in general, the novel is a study of GOOD people pitted against EVIL; nowadays... how nice!

Riders in the Chariot is not a novel easy to read, neither meant to be read to relax. As one of the 40 best Australian books ever, it's a work of pleasure for the deep and restless mind. A novel written to music, something important to the writer and the reader, and like a baroque piece exhibiting a down-to-earth accumulation of detail, this work is a must for anyone interested in the best literature of the past century and an innovative psychological narrative art that, in the hands of this Australian Nobel Prize winner, soars to the highest ranks.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars perserverance is key., October 6, 2005
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
I must admit that I didn't' choose to read this book myself, it was placed on our reading list for Literature so it was with slight apprehension and curiousity that I approached White's nobel prize winning novel. Reading the first few chapters made me realize why it was a nobel prize worthy, White's style was so different and at times confusing - it had never been done, it was strange, so it won. Of course as i slowly ploughed my way through the eccentric shadows of Xanadu which was Ms. Hare's home I gradually grew to appreciate the novel.

The novel centres around four main protaganists in post WWII Australia: Ms. Hare, Alf Dubbo, Himmelfarb and Mrs. Godbold. All of whom in some way are seeking redemption as outsiders. His novel is strongly critical of our society and it's one of those novels that makes you ask rather than answer questions that it poses. It highlights the cruel abuse of Aborigines and Jews within our world, showing the perhaps inevitable traits of humanity, that any country at any time must inexplicably have a scapegoat to fall back on.

It's a powerful novel and although slightly relieved when I was finished I was glad that I had read it. Raising many questions about human nature, White is a skilled writer that doesn't reach the finish line in the biggest, most obvious path but takes his time, weaving subtly and skillfully through metaphors and symbols to take you by surprise, emotionally and mentally to the finish line.

However it is not for those without patience, but give it a go and I can guarantee you will be hooked after the first 70 pages.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars world masterpiece, December 22, 2003
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (Hardcover)
"Riders in the Chariot" is certainly one of the great masterpieces of world literature. There were occasionally some Australian slang or particular terms that I didn't understand but it did not detract from my immense enjoyment, and ultimate catharsis I derived from reading this novel. The character of Himmelfarb will be with me forever, and the other 4 major characters were equally vivid, unique, and profound.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Visionaries, August 18, 2007
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This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
What makes a great novel? Many things, but among them I would certainly list Scale, Characters, and Moral Vision. All three of these qualities are to be found in this towering novel by Patrick White. It is the first book by the Nobel laureate that I have encountered; it will certainly not be the last.

This is a long book (640 pages), but a very easy one to read. In any case, when speaking of scale, physical length is less important than breadth of implication. White concentrates on a small group of people living on the outskirts of Sydney after WW2, but makes them seem emblematic of the entire continent. There is also a wide range of origin and social class; the characters include the last survivor of a once-rich aristocratic family, a German Jewish professor fleeing the Holocaust, a poor washerwoman who emigrated from England as a child, and a half-aboriginal painter. Since each character is given almost 100 pages of back-story, the novel is by no means confined in place or period either; the section set in Germany between the wars can hold its own with the best Holocaust writing anywhere, with particular insights into Jewish social, intellectual, and spiritual life. But the most important aspect of the book's scale is the feeling held by each of the four major characters that the universe is an immensely greater place than anything they may see around them.

White has the great gift of loving his characters. Each of the four is something of an outcast. Miss Hare, the faded aristocrat, is clearly mad; Himmelfarb, the professor, now chooses to work in a menial job, without possessions or other signs of status; Mrs. Godbold, the washerwoman, lives with her many daughters in a tumble-down shack; Alf Dubbo, the half-caste painter, works by day as a janitor and is given to fits of drunkenness. And yet White writes so convincingly through the eyes of each that we do more than feel sympathy for them; we begin to see the others around them as impoverished of spirit, living only partial lives. White is brilliant in creating a gallery of semi-comic secondary characters -- some bad, some well-meaning, some merely lacking in imagination -- to set off the qualities of his principal quartet, but even these have dimension and are far from caricatures.

One of the curious aspects of the book is that the four characters hardly ever meet, although they recognize an immediate kinship when they do. For all four are religious visionaries. Their visions may occur only once or twice in their lives, but the image is the same for each: the approach of Ezekiel's fiery chariot, both wonderful and terrible. I can think of few books that are so successful at portraying the mystical dimension while being so firmly rooted in the mundane. This is clearly a religious book, but not at all a sectarian one. It is White's strength that he endows his visionaries with everyday failings, and gives each a very different religious background. Miss Hare's religion, if she has one, is a pantheism rooted in the plants and animals on her moldering estate. Himmelfarb has returned to Judaism only after years of secular life, and considers himself morally unworthy. Mrs. Godbold is a staunch evangelical, but her religion shows more in her practical kindnesses to others than in any doctrinal fundamentalism. And Alf Dubbo, though raised by a preacher and especially inspired by religious subjects, is dissolute and virtually autistic in his day to day life.

A fourth quality that I might have mentioned is Style. White's writing, as I say, is easy to read, but very varied and always appropriate to the tone of the moment. While he can neatly skewer the social pretensions of the Rosetrees (the employers of Himmelfarb and Alf), he can also shift to the kind of description that portrays everyday things as symbolic of eternal conflicts or reflections of the infinite. His descriptions of Alf Dubbo's paintings, for example, are equaled by no author I can think of except perhaps Chaim Potok in MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, in their ability to convey a truly incandescent artistic vision. Such mastery of style is essential because, as loners, his characters cannot interact much together in terms of everyday plot, and in narrative terms the concluding section of the book is less compelling than the long set-up. But where the characters do meet is in their common vision, their unspoken sense of rightness, and it is precisely in White's evocative language that this sounds, resonates, and resounds.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dumbfounding, November 9, 2010
This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
This is simply a stupendous work of art. What is apparent in this book is the fact that Patrick White is writing for the pure unaffected love of writing. It's almost as if he's indifferent to whether the book is read or not. And yet his accomplishment with his tool, the English language, is complete. You imagine him like George Best or Ronnie O'Sullivan at their absolute prime. A genius taking simple, elemental things and making them of transcendent brilliance.
Over and over again he takes simple words and puts them together to incredible effect. The stunning turns of phrase so casually and abundantly delivered. He is able to evoke, times, places, smells, emotions, sensations in a visceral and compelling manner. His skill in this respect is something I have never seen another writer match. Others might plot better, or quip sharper, but no one, and I mean no one can immerse in a reader in a character's psyche like White. What he does with simple words, particularly in this book, is well nigh miraculous.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Although everybody watched, nobody saw, December 26, 2012
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This review is from: Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Illumination is synonymous with blinding. The world depends on the eye of the beholder.
Some writers captivate me sentence by sentence. White is one of them. Though this is only my second White novel after Voss, I think I am hooked already.
I am not saying that this is mainly a novel of prose poetry, of clever sentences. The masterful details serve as bricks for a monumental and mystifying structure. If you approach from the angle of its title, you are led into biblical mysticism. Which chariot? Who rides in the chariot? This is a question asked early on by drunken Norbert Hare of his unloved little daughter Mary.
Most mystifying, this text in Ezekiel, which has the Lord God invite the mortal to his table, to eat the horses and riders. Who are the riders? They have the faces of man, lion, ox, and eagle. Do with that what you can.

Somebody wrote that all fiction in the second half of the 20th century is either about holocaust or it is not. This novel is in the first group, but also in the other.
Set in the mid 20th century near Sidney, the novel brings 4 main characters together.
An aging, confused spinster, Mary Hare, lives in a large, run down, formerly splendid mansion, inherited from her parents. She fights a guerrilla war of proprieties and squaredom with her householder, the properly named Mrs. Jolley, the personified banality of evil when in tandem with her friend, the awful Mrs. Flack.

Ms. Hare meets Mordecai Himmelfarb, holocaust survivor, now factory worker. Himmelfarb had been a German intellectual, a literature professor, until Kristallnacht destroyed his existence. He suffers from a bad case of survivor's guilt. He is familiar with the chariot, from Hebrew scripture, and wonders, too, about the riders' identity. He thinks Mary Hare may be a Zadik, one of the dozen secret wise ones of Jewish mythology.

At work, Himmelfarb meets Alf Dubbo, the 'Abo', the 'blackfellow', an artist who earns his living as a proletarian. He had a Christian upbringing in a pastor's home, but that did not stick to him. After all, you don't need boots to go to town, if you can also go barefoot. He still reads bible texts though. Ezekiel.

The Jew and the Aboriginal provide us with the opportunity to observe working life and suburban society of Australia from its shabbiest angle, the bigotry, vulgarity, racism, that are surely not unique to Australia. Ms. Hare in her struggles with Mrs. Jolley is too special in her outsider role, and thus is not a proper conduit into White's bitter view of his countrymen. We can see why White wasn't very popular at home in his lifetime. He lacked patriotism and was a mud raker.

And there is Ms. Hare's friend Mrs. Godbold, a proletarian immigrant from England, home laundress with an abusive husband and a bunch of daughters. She is an unintellectual Christian of the chapel denomination, and she is familiar with the chariot from her hymns. She is a proper saint.

These four ride the chariot for the purpose of the novel. It is a bitter ride. But then, isn't this a redemption chariot?
If you need to be hundred percent sure of the meaning of a work of literature, this may not be for you. If you can live with a residual quantity of head scratching and wondering, this is a place for you.
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Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics)
Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) by Patrick White (Paperback - April 30, 2002)
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