Discover the Australian novelist ranked by Ladbrokes as a top-five contender for the 2010 Nobel Prize.
About the Author
Gerald Murnane was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1939. He is the author of eight works of fiction, including "Barley Patch, Inland, The Plains", and Tamarisk Row, as well as a collection of essays, "Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs". Murnane has been a recipient of the Patrick White Award and the Melbourne Prize. "Barley Patch" won the 2010 Adelaide Festival Award for Innovation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Barley Patch based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
An extremely inventive experimental novel, with a distinctive authorial voice. The back cover copy compares it to Calvino and Perec: the first is wrong, and the second is misleading. It's a book about the author's decision -- which is rescinded and contradicted many times in the book -- to stop writing fiction. Its salient feature is Murnane's strangely disaffected voice, and in that, I think, he is closest to Stein, not Perec.The book takes the form of narratives interrupted by italicized questions, asked by an imaginary reader, but in first person. Here is an example; in this passage, the author is explaining why he thinks he does not have the kind of imagination necessary to write fiction (which he clearly has), and why that capacity would not, in any case, interest him:"[In italics] Surely I have paused at least once during a lifetime of reading and have admired the passage in front of me as a product of the writer's excellent imagination."[In rom] I can recall clearly my having paused often during my first reading of the book of fiction 'Wuthering Heights,' which reading took place in the autumn of 1956. I can recall equally clearly my having paused often during my reading of the book of fiction 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles,' which reading took place in the winter of 1959. I doubt that I paused in order to feel gratitude or admiration towards any authorial personage." (p. 95)"Barley Patch" is at is best when Murnane is moving patiently among the badly remembered episodes of his childhood, which was mainly spent reading, and trying to re-allocate them as supposedly fictional elaborations that would, supposedly, have been parts of the fiction project that he decided not to write, but which is, manifestly, the book 'Barley Patch.' The book slows in its entire middle section, in which he just goes ahead and tell the only story he thinks would have been worth making into a fiction, the story of how his parents met. First that story is told in a carefully distanced third person, but then it becomes first person, and toward the end there are rote mentions of the fictional frame:"I would have reported in my abandoned work of fiction that the chief character, while he watched the rain..." (p. 221)The book's strength is in its strangeness, and its strangeness is dependent on how carefully Murnane restricts the fiction of not writing fiction, and not writing autobiography, by confining fiction, writing, memory, and autobiography in elaborate stockades of conditionals and the past subjunctive mood. Later in the book, those devices become simpler. (For example, pp. 162-3)At the beginning of the book, Murnane reports how, as a child, he experienced books by inserting himself into their fictions worlds, not as one of the represented characters, but as someone the author hadn't invented. That curious idea returns in a very strange, almost mystical fashion at the end, when he speculates that characters in fictions might have even more complex lives beyond the fictions that they're part of:"During all the years while I had been a writer of fiction and while I had sometimes struggled to write fiction -- during all those years, I had wanted to learn what places appeared in the mind of one or another fictional character whenever he or she stared past the furthest place mentioned in the text that had seemed to give rise to him or her... Now, I was free to suppose what I had often suspected: many a so-called fictional character was not a native of some or another fictional text but of a further region never yet written about." (pp. 246-7)For me that is the interest and the drawback of Murnane in one passage: interesting because it echoes Stein's compulsive grammars; disappointing because the theme (fictional lives of fictional characters) is not the theme he'd started with (fictional lives of invented characters supposedly living among fictional characters). The first theme is more interesting than the second, and the fact that the book starts wi