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Thread: Gerald Murnane

  1. #1
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    Australia Gerald Murnane

    So I thought I'd share some information about this somewhat underappreciated writer with the rest of you. The basic biographical details (along with some very useful links) you'll find on Wikipedia; I'm intending this thread to be a kind of record of my own reactions to his fiction.

    Of his five published novels, I've read only two--The Plains and Inland (arguably, his masterpiece). Both compelled me to seek out more of his work, as I thought I was in the presence of something "rich and strange."

    Subsequently, I read two books of his short stories (Landscape with Landscape and Emerald Blue) and a collection of essays, written over a number of years but published only recently: bearing the exquisite title Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs (he confesses to have borrowed the phrase from Proust).

    Murnane's main subject is, in the words of the Swedish critic Karin Hansson, "the potentialities and functions of consciousness, mind and memory. His main interest is not the world as it exists but as it is given in our minds."

    His language is, like Virginia Woolf's (with whom he shares a connection), rather simple: it is the unique combination of words and images on the page that make him such a complicated writer to delve into.

    His basic approach to storytelling is something that Hansson, in her article, sums up as "a double or treble perspective." She goes on to say, "He is seeing himself from his position in the present evoking memories of a place in the past when he as a young man was looking towards the future, imagining the place where he would find himself then."

    Nowhere is this more evident than in his short story from the late 80s called When the Mice Failed to Arrive, which can be read here.


    ...



    Some quotations from his fiction, for those interested enough to look him up (these are rather disjointed, but they were intended to be):

    ...a dark room in a city white with lights in the darkness of the universe...

    A man's landscape is lying within himself: within some broad but invisible zone composed of his memories, which are mostly memories of dreams.

    I described how once, leaning over a saucepan of cordial while my mother stirred, I had asked what caused the strands of richness that swayed in the wake of the spoon and she, who never cared for one word more than another or troubled herself to explain to her children anything beyond the names and appearances of things, told me that I was looking at the essence. And that was it: that one word had done something to me. Afterwards, when I mixed my cordial with water and saw the molten filaments of darker red spiraling through the milder color, I pronounced the word "essence" with more pleasure than I got from tasting the liquid that was its nearest sensible equivalent.

    The worst hypocrisy of the middle classes was their refusing to acknowledge frankly the chief good in life: called unfeigned sensual pleasure.

    I would go on reading until my thoughts ranged across hundreds of landscapes varied enough to satisfy any of my changeable moods.

    I decided that falling in love was nothing else than wanting urgently to see a woman's landscape.

    The green of the Hardy books matched a certain color that I saw inside myself: a color that must have been inside me even before I looked at my first landscapes.

    About Australia: "the countryside of pessimism... The green landscape of despair."

    Themes of my novel: human folly, isolation, and decay.

    I think of myself as a writer, and yet nothing I see around me seems to belong in my writing. What I write (during the few hours each week when I actually write) are things I call landscapes of the mind. They are a sort of prose-poem made by arranging words from a private collection I have begun to compile.

    I write fiction in order to discover the pattern of myself and my life.

    ...



    Murnane's protagonists are almost invariably writers themselves.

    Finally, anyone as passionate about foreign languages as I am, would be undoubtedly interested in reading his essay about his struggle and joy to learn Hungarian, collected in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs.

    I hope this was of interest to some, at least.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Murnane's thoughts about the writing process (primarily his own); from Meanjin, vol. 45, no. 4, December 1986:


    Why I Write What I Write



    I write sentences. I write first one sentence, then another sentence. I write sentence after sentence.


    I write a hundred or more sentences each week and a few thousand sentences a year.


    After I've written each sentence I read it aloud. I listen to the sound of the sentence, and I don't begin to write the next sentence unless I'm absolutely satisfied with the sound of the sentence I'm listening to.


    When I've written a paragraph I read it aloud to learn whether all the sentences that sounded well on their own still sound well together.


    When I've written two or three pages I read them aloud. When I've written a whole story or a section that you might call a chapter, I read that aloud too. Every night before I start my writing I read aloud what I wrote the night before. I'm always reading aloud and listening to the sounds of sentences.


    What am I listening for when I read aloud?


    The answer is not simple. I might start with a phrase from the American critic Hugh Kenner: the shape of meaning. Writing about William Carlos Williams, Kenner suggested that some sentences have a shape that fits their meaning while other sentences do not.


    Robert Frost once wrote: "A sentence is a sound on which other sounds called words may be strung."


    Robert Frost also had a phrase, "the sound of sense," to describe what he listened for in writing. Frost likened this sound to the pattern we hear when the sound of a conversation, but not the sounds of actual words, reaches us from a nearby room.


    Robert Louis Stevenson had a different notion of what a sentence should do:


    Each sentence, by successive phrases, shall first come into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended meaning, solve and clear itself.


    I don't say that I swear by any of these maxims that I've quoted. But each of them lights up a little part of the mystery of why some sentences sound right and some don't.


    A word I haven't mentioned yet is rhythm. A lot of nonsense is talked about rhythm. Here's something that is far from nonsense.


    Rhythm is not an ideal form to which we fit our words. It is not a musical notation to which our words submit. Rhythm is born not with the words but with the thought. Good writing exactly reproduces what we should call the contour of our thought.


    I found these words in a book published nearly sixty years ago: English Prose Style, by Herbert Read.


    The contour of our thought is a magical phrase for me. It has helped me in times of trouble in the way that phrases from the Bible or from Karl Marx probably help other people.


    You will not be surprised to know that Virginia Woolf had a deep insight into this matter of the rightness of sentences. Here is something she wrote about it.


    Style is a very simple matter, it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. This is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it, and in writing one has to recapture this, and set this working, (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it.


    Something else I listen for when I read aloud: I listen to make sure that the voice I'm hearing is my own voice and not someone else's voice. I don't always succeed in this, of course. Sometimes when I read my writing of a few years ago I recognise that I've imitated in a few places the voices of others.


    I listen for the sound of my own voice because I remember something the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh once said: "This is genius: a man being simply and sincerely himself."


    And still another thing I hope to hear in my sentences is the note of authority. John Gardner said authority is the sound of a writer who knows what he's doing. He cited as his favourite example of prose ringing with authority this opening passage from a famous novel.


    Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particularly to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.


    I've said I write sentences, but you probably expect me to say what the sentences are about.


    My sentences arise out of images and feelings that haunt me--not always painfully; sometimes quite pleasantly. These images and feelings haunt me until I find the sentences to bring them into this world.


    Note that I didn't say "to bring them to life." The person who reads my sentences may think that he or she is looking at something newly alive. But the images and feelings behind my words have been alive for a long time beforehand.


    This has been a very simple account of something that begins to make me dizzy if I think about it for too long. The only detail I can add is to say that as I write, the images and feelings haunting me become linked in ways that surprise and amaze me. Often if I write one sentence to put into a form of words a certain image or feeling, I find as soon as I've written the sentence that a new throng of images and feelings have gathered to form a pattern where I had not known a pattern existed.


    Writing never explains anything for me: it only shows me how stupendously complicated everything is.


    But why do I write what I write?


    Why do I write sentences? Why does anyone write sentences? What are sentences? What are subjects and predicates, verbs and nouns? What are words themselves?


    I ask myself these questions often. I think about these matters every day in one way or another. For me these questions are as profound as the questions: why do we get ourselves born, why do we fall in love, why do we die?


    If I pretended I could answer any of these questions, I'd be a fool.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    By the way, Murnane's essay on foreign languages (half of which is devoted to his discussion of Latin, actually) which I refer to in #1 is called The Angel's Son: Why I Learned Hungarian Late in Life, first published in 2003.
    Last edited by Liam; 30-Nov-2008 at 02:03.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Oi! Thanks for yr threads. Very intriguing, very helpful.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Yes--I would also use "intriguing" when writing about Gerald Murnane.

    His language is deceptively simple (oftentimes even repetitious); but it does conceal real gems underneath its apparent plainness.

    Thank you for your words of encouragement--I was beginning to lose faith that I'd manage to interest any of you in this underappreciated writer.

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    Australia Re: Gerald Murnane

    New Gerald Murnane collection (Barley Patch) coming out in Sep 2009.

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    Australia Re: Gerald Murnane

    Murnane's great masterpiece, Inland, is to be published by Dalkey Archive in May 2012. The Australian reviews describe the book as a "a dispersed, sprawling narrative, a set of texts interlocked by a myriad of narratives, a work that could be described as postmodern for its intricate examination of meaning. It challenges our interpretations of space and time, as if we were looking in another way, not out to the glistening ocean surrounding our island, perhaps, but inland, where dreams are real."

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    A nice little write-up of The Plains by an Aussie university student who was once a member of this forum.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    I'm still here, Liam! I just don't post very often... Cheers for the kind words about the review.

    Would you recommend his other stuff, even if I felt conflicted about The Plains?
    Looking for something to read?
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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Good to know you're around, Matt!

    I'd say, try Inland, his masterpiece (a relatively short book of about 150-170 pages, depending on the edition)--most of his subsequent fiction, whether short or long is like Inland. If you don't like Inland then Murnane is simply not for you.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    In case anyone cares, Murnane's new book, A History of Books, has been shortlisted for Australia's richest literary award: the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction.

    http://www.theage.com.au/entertainme...809-23vz4.html

    It's a strong list - I'd be surprised if he beat either Funder or Mears, but who knows.
    Looking for something to read?
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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    I hope he gets it, regardless, just because I love him so much!

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Recent review of Inland at the CR.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    His basic approach to storytelling is something that Hansson, in her article, sums up as "a double or treble perspective." She goes on to say, "He is seeing himself from his position in the present evoking memories of a place in the past when he as a young man was looking towards the future, imagining the place where he would find himself then."
    If you're interested in that "double / treble perspective" aspect of Murnane's work you might be interested in Andre Aciman's writing. A very similar concept is a trope throughout Aciman's essays (False Papers) and novel Call me by your name, both of which are excellent. I don't remember if the same trope is used as much in Out of Egypt, his family saga memoir, but I'd also recommend it since it's probably his greatest work (think Speak, Memory by Nabokov, or the first chapter of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi).

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Just finished Inland. Great work (can't really call it a novel, more like a meditation on many different things but of all imagination from which rises fiction), and after thinking hard about it and reading a bit about it online some of the pieces that didn't fit while I was reading are beginning to make sense; I can't say I entirely get it, though. I thought there were some flaws in the book, but the more I turn these flaws over in my head the more they make sense to me and the more necessary they seem. I'm sure I'll revisit it in my head over the next few weeks and probably reread it at some point, and I'll definitely check out some of his other books.

    (Since a lot of his fame nowadays I feel rests on his being a potential Nobel candidate I'll add this: I do think he is deserving, and I do want him to win, but it won't be a big snub if he never gets it.)

    Liam, what are your thoughts on Inland?

    Also, here's an interesting write up of the book, it helped me a lot consolidate my thoughts and figure out some more puzzling parts of the text: http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2010...en-gerald.html

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    Australia Re: Gerald Murnane

    A new memoir by Gerald Murnane coming out in 2016.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    The e-book version is out later this month, but its page count is about a hundred less than the paperback in Liam's link. Is this just e-book formatting troubles? Or is the paperback expanded?

    http://www.amazon.com/Something-Pain...3451916&sr=1-1
    Last edited by redheadshadz; 05-Oct-2015 at 18:49.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    I've unfortunately only read "The Plains", though I have "Inland" sitting somewhere in my ever-expanding "to read" stack. It might be one of my all time favorite novels. It is one of only a handful of books that I started over from the beginning again as soon as I had read the last page.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Quote Originally Posted by RASimmons View Post
    It might be one of my all time favorite novels. It is one of only a handful of books that I started over from the beginning again as soon as I had read the last page.
    That good, huh? He rubs me exactly the right way also.

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    Default Re: Gerald Murnane

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    A new memoir by Gerald Murnane coming out in 2016.
    About all his travels, no doubt.

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