“Inside the Mind of a Master” by Gerald Murnane is a review of his work “Inland.”
Gerald Murnane’s novels are so strange, so far from literature’s beaten path, that their very existence – let alone their republication and celebration – seems miraculous. And they are celebrated: the 84-year-old Australian author is a regular favourite for the Nobel prize in literature, and this month sees the reissue of his fourth novel, Inland, first published in 1988 and in the view of JM Coetzee, Murnane’s “most ambitious, sustained and powerful piece of writing”.
Following his initial novels, Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), which were unique but largely based on his own life experiences, Murnane released The Plains (1982). This work served as a bridge between fiction and a more philosophical writing style. Inland came next, marking his first fully developed work that could be attributed to his distinctive voice and thoughts, consistent with his later works.
In a typical book review, it is customary to provide a summary or introduction to the plot. However, in this case, there is no discernible plot to discuss. Instead, there is a clear narrative direction and a sense of closeness created by the narrator directly addressing the reader. These elements make Inland surprisingly captivating. “As the reader, it is easier for you than for me. You can be certain of reaching the end of the pages while reading. But as I write, I cannot be certain of reaching the end.”
The text has a nonfiction style, but the narrator is not Murnane. This is evident from his opening statement: “I am currently writing in the library of a manor-house, located in a village that I choose not to disclose, near the town of Kunmadaras, in Szolnok County.” This reveals that the setting is in Hungary, while Murnane, known for his peculiar idiosyncrasies, has never ventured outside of Australia.
The narrative chronicles the author’s process of writing his book, which he plans to submit to his editor in South Dakota upon completion. He types deliberately and with great care, gazing intently at the keyboard and envisioning the words before he types them. We are privy to his musings, his depictions of the scenery outside his window, and later, his reflections on his childhood, specifically his recollection of “the girl from Bendigo Street” – all conveyed through eloquent and impeccably structured sentences.
Murnane’s fiction has been described as a direct representation of the contents of his mind, without any embellishments. While this may seem obvious, it is the way he describes and reflects on these contents that makes his books captivating. Instead of focusing on what is omitted (such as plots, characters, and issues), it is important to pay attention to what is included in his writing. The more of his work one reads, the more depth and significance can be found in recurring motifs such as colors, glass marbles, and horse racing. Murnane’s writing truly invites readers into the mind of another person unlike anywhere else.
While Inland may have a limited number of characters, it is rich in both character and Murnane’s unique perspective on the world. Even his trademark minimalism cannot resist including some traditional novelistic joys, whether they be humorous (such as his admiration for the furtiveness of birds) or heartfelt. He reflects on his feelings for the girl from Bendigo Street, stating, “I would have claimed to like her, but now I believe enough time has passed for me to use the stronger word. Today, I declare that I love her.”
The saying goes that a page in a book reflects rather than reveals, and the last strand of Inland follows the protagonist’s fixation on specific titles, in particular Wuthering Heights. It is a testament to either remarkable self-assurance or Murnane’s sly perspective that Inland concludes with the final words of Brontë’s novel. He also fixates on a line from French poet Paul Éluard, “There is another world but it is in this one.” What better description of a novel could there be than one that encompasses another world within our own?