It seems that Gerald Murnane’s way of viewing the world is born of astonishment. Herbert Read quotes Picasso, upon viewing an exhibition of children’s drawings: “It took me many years to learn how to draw like these children.” My reading of Murnane is provisional, based on the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs and the novels, Barley Patch and recently Tamarisk Row, yet what seems possible from my reading is that Murnane’s astonishment is that of a child.
This is not to detract in any way from the sophistication of his vision, but his way of capturing reality with an immediacy and sensitivity that reveals the wonderment in the mundane. Picasso’s apparent obsession with drawings that have the properties of a child’s perspective I think was something different, an inherent conservatism perhaps, that glorified what he saw as primitive art, a retreat from the idea of progress rather than an opening up of vision.
In Tamarisk Row, Murnane’s vision, his astonishment, offers a way of seeing the world that is familiar, but long repressed. Something hidden is brought to light and, as a consequence, offers an opportunity to come away with an expanded perspective. Taken at surface level, the narrated story of a slice of a young boy’s life is simple, but what Murnane does is to emphasise the immanent strangeness. This is what the world looked like before being stifled by the experience of adulthood.
My intention this year is to read more or less chronologically through much of Murnane’s writing, interspersed perhaps with Clarice Lispector’s stories, another writer that for different reasons never fails to have a profound effect on the world around me.
Thank you for this interesting review. I am waiting for your thoughts on his other books. Murnane’s uncategorizable style has immensely captured me.
I am very interested in your response to The Plains when you reach that ineffable landscape.
Coincidentally I realised about an hour ago, it is now the only Murnane (aside from the difficult to obtain Emerald Blue) that I don’t yet own.
It’s impossible to describe or forget, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Emerald Blue in Stream System, the collection of his short fictions released at same time as Border Districts
Oh, cool, thank you.
I read the Plains, but couldn’t make it through the short-story collection. If you’ve ever been to Australia, especially in and around Melbourne, you’ll have a slightly adjusted response to his writing for a number of reasons, the terrain for one, the oddness of the burbs, the heat. I find his writing a little menacing rather than moving; something not quite the ticket just below the surface. But what put me off more than anything else, and to be honest there wasn’t a whole lot of anything else, was the narrowness of his vision, which feels “made up” rather than invented if that makes any sense whatsoever. His long term project – if that’s what it is – could well be titled: Rambling Man or One thing Leads to Another or The First Thing That Popped into my Head, because that, to me, is how it reads.
Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll have to see how I get on as I read through his work. I’ve been to Melbourne a few times, which does add something to reading his work.