Gerald Murnane: A National Living Treasure or the most highly-awarded Australian writer you’ve never heard of?
‘a genius on the level of Beckett’ Teju Cole
‘…the sombre lyricism so moving, the intelligence behind the chiseled sentences so undeniable, that we suspend all disbelief.’ J M Coetzee
Murnane, author of, now, thirteen books grew up in a Victorian country town. He had a Catholic boyhood, and was strongly influenced by his father’s love of horse racing. As a boy, Murnane spent many hours devising horse races and jockey’s colours.
His way of viewing the world is deeply influenced by the landscape of these early years. One of his most frequently used phrases, ‘a mostly level plain’ characterizes the landscape he finds most desirable. Other images, from illustrated religious texts, or school readers, have permanently etched images on his mind.
His works mull over ways of thinking and perceiving, and even though the narrator could be seen to be Murnane, so closely does the narrator’s life and vision align with Murnane’s, he always distances himself, naming the narrating voice as ‘the writer of this report.’
Murnane has a dry, somewhat deadpan style. His first books Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds(1976) appeared to be semi-autobiographical. They were irreverent, irreligious even, and were regarded as a betrayal of their values by his extended family.
His books now could be seen as meditations on memory and imagination, both dry and moving, philosophical and ridiculous. Gerald Murnane is unique.
The Holy Ghost, called nowadays the Holy Spirit was sometimes referred to as the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity. Not only did I never forget him: he was by far my favourite of the three divine persons.
The boy’s parents went to bed on most evenings long before he had finished his homework. If he passed by their bedroom door, he would see them side by side, propped up on pillows, and each reading by the light of the bedlamp fixed to the bedhead between them one or another of the (library) books in the glazed covers.
Murnane finishes his ‘report’ with these words from P B Shelley:
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity
Gerald Murnane is a distant relative of The Gerts.
His father was the brother of the husband of our father’s sister, and Gerald himself was the instigator of the famous ‘WHAT BABY?’ incident which cannot be discussed here.