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Riders in the Chariot (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 30, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A poetically vivid narrative…It is a finely written novel with a rare flavor.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Riders in the Chariot is the most compassionate and the most beautiful of all Patrick White’s works; colours fly everywhere; his words, comic, ecstatic, are like the brushstrokes on a canvas by Nolan or Blake.
— Carmen Callil and Colm Tóibín, The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950

Patrick White is an outsider, and his characters are outsiders, outlaws, afflicted, and linked by their affliction. The visionary element in his novels is inseparable from a tough irony and a microscopically close, sometimes savage attention to physical minutiae. The coarser the texture of the physical—of bodies especially—the more likely to be illuminated by flashes of meaning and power.
— Rosemary Dinnage

About the Author

Patrick White (1912-1990) was born in London and traveled to Sydney with his Australian parents six months later. White was a solitary, precocious, asthmatic child and at thirteen was sent to an English boarding school, a miserable experience. At eighteen he returned to Australia and worked as a jackaroo on an isolated sheep station. Two years later, he went up to Cambridge, settling afterwards in London, where he published his first two books. White joined the RAF in 1940 and served as an intelligence officer in the Middle East. At war’s end, he and his partner, Manoly Lascaris, bought an old house in a Sydney suburb, where they lived with their four Schnauzers. For the next eighteen years, the two men farmed their six acres while White worked on some of his finest novels, including The Tree of Man(1955), Voss (1957), and Riders in the Chariot (1961). When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973, he did not attend the ceremony but, with his takings and some of his own money, created an award to help older writers who hadn’t received their due: the first recipient was Christina Stead. Late in life, when asked for a list of his loves, White responded: “Silence, the company of friends, unexpected honesty, reading, going to the pictures, dreams, uncluttered landscapes, city streets, faces, good food, cooking small meals, whisky, sex, pugs, the thought of an Australian republic, my ashes floating off at last.”

David Malouf is a novelist and poet. His novel The Great Worldwas awarded the Commonwealth Prize and Remembering Babylon was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He has received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Los Angeles TimesBook Award. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170021
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 11, 2002
Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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.Read more ›
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