What do I recall of reading Remembrance of Things Past? Many years later, I remember characters, scenes, moods, but I am unable to quote a sentence. I recall that, in Combray, and in the salon of Duchesse de Guermantes, a non-Proustian observer silently stood. He was a “ghostly fictional character” insinuated into Proust’s fiction by this reader.
In the Barley Patch, Gerald Murnane uniquely explores memory and fiction, the images that endure during and after reading fiction, and the existence of fictional characters when they are not being described. His work itself is a fiction. I suspect Barley Patch is impossible to completely comprehend without a grounding in his previous fiction, perhaps not even with that history. I did not use the term ‘uniquely’ lightly. I’ve read nothing quite like Barley Patch, possibly it is brilliant.
Acquiring Barley Patch in Europe takes a little effort. This post at Being in Lieu induced me to read Murnane’s latest book. Jen writes, “There is a kind of music, or at least very recognisable rhythm, in the writing of Gerald Murnane,” and finds echoes of Proust. His meticulous scrutiny into the nature of memory, what it is to remember and what we mean when we ‘remember’ fiction impels me to question whether I remembered fiction in this way before reading Murnane.
The writing is precise to the point of pedantry. Though occasionally irksome, Murnane’s precision has the benefit of slowing one’s reading. It is that sort of book that you place on your lap from time to time, stare into the middle distance, and ponder.
The most precise statement (in comments) that I have encountered about Gerald Murnane’s writing is, “All books by Gerald Murnane, if you can find them, are fascinating. Obscure and fascinating. One feels as though the grit in one’s reading eye has been thoroughly cleaned out with…something.” It is a description that sums up my reading of Barley Patch very well.