by Gerald Murnane Giramondo; $24.95
A man arrives to live
in a country town “just short of the border” with a resolve to “guard my eyes”. To explain how he came by the expression “guard my eyes”, he begins a narrative of the past, of himself as a boy, then a youth. At the end of the book the origin of the expression is clarified. And the reader is stilled, humming with a new alertness. Gerald Murnane is Australia’s most distinguished unread writer. His writing, clean and sure, gleams like a stately river moving towards its estuary; it’s unread because, like that river, he meanders and coils back into himself so severely that following it can be a test of patience. But patience is a virtue that is rewarded. This is Murnane’s 13th book and its subject is the same as that of the other 12: a variation on what it is like to be this man, fastidiously conscious of his ongoing experience. His references are the lodestones of his private mythology: horseracing, racing colours, the grasslands, the colour of a woman’s hair, the way the light refracts through coloured glass, books he once thought interesting. He is always deliberate, never histrionic; the descriptive words “mild” and “pale” often occur. This narrator, steadfast in his determination to write only what can be explained in the language he knows, is unnamed. He suggests this is a work of imaginative fiction, but the facts of Murnane’s life coincide with those of the narrator’s. These facts encourage reveries about a parallel existence, fanciful conjectures of what his life might have been in another time, in another house, or perhaps if he were a woman. His mind teems with halfglimpsed but retained images that fasten time in an eternity that is happening now. This method of capturing experience, life itself, allows him to move in it as if it were space. He mentions another writer in another continent at another time as “a man with translucent panes for eyes”. The same might apply to Murnane, although he sees things obliquely, following the shimmer at the corner of vision rather than the straightforward image. If he applies a layered archaeological sensibility and order to these regulated glimpses, meaning might emerge. Christianity, the tradition that gives him his cultural steel, although he has long rejected it as a belief, has always had devotional books: often objects of considerable physical beauty, offering a practical guide to daily life and engendering connection to the divine. Border Districts is a devotional manuscript in which the intention is not the divine but a recuperation, even a restoration, of self. It is thrilling. Nothing happens, everything happens. By imprinting every external thing with something from the internal and putting it into words, Murnane brings one inner life, with caution and care, into the world. An exchange occurs and, mysteriously, one usually impatient reader’s life is refreshed.