By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
A History of Books
By Gerald Murnane (Giramondo, $26.95, softcover, 205 pages)
Gerald Murnane is an ingenious writer with a distinctive concept and technique in writing fiction.
A History of Books is a four-part intriguing parable that concerns itself with explanations and unorthodox opinions.
In his latest offering, Murnane continues his exploration of the relationship between writing and reading that he undertook in Barley Patch (2009). It is a fictionalised autobiography, where each of the 29 sections begins with the memory of a book that has left an image in the writer’s mind.
They include scenes of marital discord, violence and madness, suggesting guilt at the cost to others of the writing life, combining these with landscapes of great beauty, hinting at the spiritual illumination that such a life can bring.
Also forming a part, are three shorter pieces of fiction which play on these themes featuring the writer at different ages—as a boy, a teacher and as an older man.
You could say that this work, in parts, reads like a literary whodunit. He provides clues to the author’s identity, but doesn’t give the titles. Hence, you summon a parade of literary ‘greats’ including Proust, Francois Mauriac, John Clare, James Joyce, Musil, Christopher Brennan, Conrad, Steinbeck and Canetti.
The anecdotes and how they relate to his life and his memories may not interest everyone. Some may even find that the lack of a plot and character development, coupled with drifting through time and subtle repetition, a little tedious.
Held in high regard, Murnane is a recipient of the Patrick White Prize (1999) and has also received a special award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (2007), an Australia Council emeritus award (2008) and the Melbourne Prize for Literature (2009).
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.