Sunday 26 February 2017

Inland by Gerald Murnane    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“There are other worlds, but they’re all in this one,” wrote Paul Eluard, quoted by Murnane (in a slightly different translation) in Inland. The multiplicity and porosity of identity, not only of personage but also of occurrence and of place (the overarching (or underarching?) predominator of Murnane’s writing), destabilises received notions of ‘the novel’ and deprives the reader of the tools traditionally used to work on text whilst keeping it at a safe, ‘practical’ distance. Instead, in a world in which “each thing is at least two things”, in what Murnane elsewhere calls the ‘image world’, the image, usually, in Murnane’s case, deeply saturated with old longing, is the determinant, its expected anchors or referents plunging through so many layers of fiction and memory (so to call them) that the distinctions between these are dissolved, the resonating image, that which is (mis)taken for an impression but which is more the last upon which both fiction and actuality receive a form, retained at least for the duration of contact but more often sufficiently long to be cupped together with other fictional and actual layers similarly impressed, is what both shapes the text and disavows the possibility of shape. Inland begins with a Hungarian writer who has been written by another writer who appears to be some written version of Murnane, telling the reader that he is anticipating his translator (for whom he yearns romantically (there is contradictory evidence as to whether they have never met or have shared a past)) reading what he is writing, thus, since it is implied that we are reading the text as purportedly translated by the said translator, adding another layer to the cocoon of text which stifles the postulated Murnane in his very attempts to make contact with the world beyond himself. During the course of the book, the layers of obfuscation are wound away, a process during which Murnane abandons (for good) fiction as usually understood, and replaces it with a multileveled examination of the nature and behaviour and mutability of memory, an examination of the potency of an image over time. Wound in the centre of this book and revealed towards the end is what the narrator (the purported Murnane (a constructed personage just like any other)) ‘remembers’ of his twelve-year-old self, of his undeclared love for a “girl from Bendigo Street”, who, according to a mutual friend, liked him “very much”, the closest the narrator gets to actual contact with a fellow person, though he is aware that each of them was almost certainly perceiving and relating primarily to someone in the image world rather than an actual person. Murnane continued his examination of the relationship between images, memory and ‘reality’, and into the way in which text reaches out to and yet pushes further away the world inhabited by others, in Barley Patch and A Million Windows. Apart from all this, and in fact necessitated by all this, or at least indistinguishable from all this, Murnane writes beautiful, exquisitely pedantic, sad, subtly barbed and often very funny sentences, and I might well agree with him when he stated in a recent interview, “My sentences are the best-shaped of any sentences written by any writer of fiction in the English language during my lifetime. The previous sentence is a fair average sample of my prose", even though the ironic valency of his statement is highly uncertain.

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