(by Gerald Murnane)
Murnane’s writing is the literary equivalent of a performance by the dance troupe Jailolo. As the dancers creep across a stage via barely discernable, repetitive, miniscule movements, so Murnane inches and tics his way from nowhere to somewhere word by word. His is a philisophy of obscurantism, distance and apprehension.
“I recalled just now an earlier undertaking of mine to explain in the previous paragraph why this is not a self-referential work of fiction. The discerning reader should have found the promised explanation in the paragraph as it stands. For the sake of the undiscerning reader I shall repeat the simple fact that I am the narrator of this work and not the author. In the matter of my fate, so to call it, I am no more able to exercise choice than is any narrator or any of the texts going forward in room after room in this wing of the house of two or, perhaps, three storeys where this text is to be understood as going forward, or any character, so to call him or her, in any work of fiction reported to be going forward in any of those rooms.”
I must be an un-discerning reader. Whereas an hour of watching the almost stationary Jailolo dancers was an hour of intrigue and novelty, an hour of reading this exegesis on writing and memory, with its most assuredly deliberate keeping of the reader at arm’s length, and repetition, is a dull and frustrating hour.
The latter part of the book is better. Murnane then occasionally suspends his overt disdain for the confused reader who does not enjoy his creative writing exercises (which are often about the chief character in a conjectured piece of fiction, who may or may not be the author or the narrator, in a certain north-western town in a certain south-eastern state who exchanges glances for two excruciating years on homeward train journeys with a certain fictional dark-haired young woman, hardly more than a girl, who may or may not remind him, or someone else, of another briefly glimpsed fictional dark-haired woman, hardly more than a girl) and indulges himself further, but here to advantage, with quirks such as his horse-racing game, which reflects the real author/narrator’s love of the gee-gees and weakness for word-games, (cf. Nabokov’s ‘word-golf’).
But it’s too little, too late. Murnane can’t break out of his own sticky web. Nobel? It’s not Pinter or Beckett. It’s Murnane.[P adds: Reading the first quarter of the Bloke from Goroke’s book, and with reference to the paragraph L quotes above, one recalls Clive James’ lines: “He wrote a book full of nothing except writing For people who can’t do anything but read”*.
However, a review of the discerning, long (but considerably easier to read) exposition on Murnane in the Australian Book Review – “The scientist of his own experience – A profile of Gerald Murnane” by Shannon Burns (No. 373, August 2015), suggests it might be worthwhile putting on the strong coffee, perhaps cooling it down with a little whisky, setting lamp over armchair and delving back into this (and other, more accessible offerings – from the Burns article we think perhaps Tamarisk Row, The Plains or Barley Patch?). After all, Murnane is often touted as a dark horse for the Literary Nobel – and remember how light, fluffy and easy to skim was the corpus of our last winner?]
*”A Gesture towards James Joyce” [and Finnegans Wake]