by Ger­ald Mur­nane Gi­ra­mondo; $24.95

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - NOTED by He­len El­liott

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.

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