Category Archives: Writers

Gerald Murnane – Last Letter To A Reader

The Australian writer, Gerald Murnane is famous for being described by The New York Times as ‘the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of.’  That was in 2018, the year he was almost awarded the Nobel Prize, except, due to scandals within the organisation, the prize was not awarded that year. 

He is the author of ten novels, three books of short stories, essays, a book of poetry and a memoir. His first novels, Tamarisk Row, and A Lifetime in Clouds, appear to be semi-autobiographical accounts of his childhood, although Murnane would probably dispute that. Last Letter to a Reader is a slender book of essays, in which Murnane states

A few weeks ago, on one of the first days of spring in my eighty-second year, I began a project that seemed likely to provide a neat rounding-off to my career as a published writer.

Having, he says, never read any of his books in its published form, his project was to read all of those books and as he says, ‘confront …(the book)…as though for the first time.’ We come to this book, then looking for the author’s definitive views on the totality of his published work.

Knowing the work of Gerald Murnane, I wasn’t really expecting this to happen. He is well known for changing his mind. On several occasions he has announced he has written his last word, and then a few years later several more books appear. What I was hoping for was some insight into his process as a writer, and some uniquely Murnanian observations on his writing. And that is what we have here.

I should say that Murnane has several favourite phrases that he uses a great deal. One is, ‘a mostly level plain, ‘ and the other, ‘some or another.’ In these essays he also speaks of his love for the long sentence, and its suitability for

someone such as myself, who delights in discovering connections between things that seemed previously unconnected and in using compound sentences to arrange for the contemplation of connections-between-connections, so to call them…

He then speaks of his novel A Million Windows and says he wrote in the margin beside what he calls ‘a paragraph sentence,’ ‘This is the finest sentence I’ve ever composed – GM March 2014’.

Here it is,

If, in the further reaches of some or another remote corridor in an immense house of two or, perhaps, three storeys, and behind some or another door that remains mostly closed but in sight of a window overlooking some or another tract of far-reaching landscape of mostly level grassy countryside with low hills or a line of trees in the distance, a certain man at his desk, on some or another day of sunshine with scattered clouds, were to spurn the predictable words and phrases of the many writers of fiction who have reported of this or that male character that he once fell in love with this or that female character, and if that same man, after striving as neither I, the author of this sentence, nor even the most discerning reader of the sentence, have or has striven nor will ever strive, in late afternoon, and at about the time when the rays of the declining sun might have caused the pane in the window of his room to seem to a traveller on a distant road like a spot of golden oil, had found in his heart, or wherever such things are to be found, the words best fitted to suggest what he seemed to have felt long before, on a certain hot afternoon, in a distant inland  city, and whether he had simply kept those words in  mind or whether he had actually written them, either as notes for a work of fiction that he might one day write or as part of an actual work of fiction, then I do not doubt that the words would have been to the effect that a certain boy, a mere child, while he watched unobserved a certain girl, a mere child, whose name he did not know and who had almost certainly never had sight of him, wished for the means to inform her that he was worthy of trust.

In these essays Murnane reflects upon the sources of his imagery; a solitary game of marbles on an Axminster carpet, a garden with the dark red of begonias amidst green leaves, the bright lights of a passenger steamer on the ocean at twilight, creating an ‘oblong glow.’ The haunting images observed by a lonely boy from his very first days. He has a name for it now, ‘The detail that winks,’ and in his use of it he has learnt from Proust.,

There is much more to know about Gerald Murnane; his love of the Hungarian language, his passion for his own game of racing, his violin music, his golf, and here he provides a glimpse into the life of a completely unique individual. The solitary writer at his desk in a humble room, creating lives with his words.

Larissa Behrendt – After Story

Something of a miracle has just occurred in Australia. A four year old girl, who disappeared  in the night while her family was camping in a remote area of Western Australia, has been found alive and well after being gone for eighteen days. The whole country is rejoicing.

But while this was happening, I was reading Larissa Behrendt’s novel After Story where a child who was taken from her family home was never seen alive again.

Continue reading Larissa Behrendt – After Story

Anthony Burgess – Beard’s Roman Women

Anthony Burgess met his first wife Lynne at University and they married in 1942. They lived in England and Malaysia and Brunei, and a great deal of their leisure time was devoted to drinking and partying. Lynne became known for her outrageous and flirtatious behaviour. She is said to have insulted the Duke of Edinburgh at an official function. Burgess liked women and had discreet affairs (Lynne had indiscreet affairs) and five years before she died in 1968, he had met the Italian woman who became his second wife.  It is said he would not divorce Lynne because he did not wish to offend his cousin George Dwyer the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds. Continue reading Anthony Burgess – Beard’s Roman Women

COLM TÓIBÍN -THE MAGICIAN

Having written a novel, The Master, based on several years in the life of Henry James, Colm Tóibín has now written a book based on the life of Thomas Mann, the German writer. The Magician takes its title from the name Mann’s children gave him, for his love of doing magic tricks to amuse small children.  Being the Mann family, though, it wasn’t an altogether affectionate term; there was some element of denigration about it. Never was there a family with so much rivalry. Brother against brother, sister against brother, child against father. So the name The Magician, has elements of ‘You think you are a magician, above all the rest of us, but we know what you really are.’ Continue reading COLM TÓIBÍN -THE MAGICIAN